Docstoc

Trouble for Lucia

Document Sample
Trouble for Lucia Powered By Docstoc
					Trouble for Lucia

          1939




   E. F. Benson




 This edition published in
     August 2008 by
                                                                    3
                                                                        “Do you think the arms are quite in the middle?” he asked.
Chapter I                                                               “It looks perfect. Shall I try it on?”
                                                                         Lucia displayed the back of her gloved hand, leaning her
                                                                        forehead elegantly against the finger-tips.


L
      ucia Pillson, the Mayor-Elect of Tilling and her                   “Yes, that seems all right,” said Georgie. “Give it me back.
      husband Georgie were talking together one October                 It’s not quite finished. About the other thing. It would be
      afternoon in the garden-room at Mallards. The debate              rather marked if you suddenly stopped doing your market-
demanded the exercise of their keenest faculties. Viz:                  ing yourself, as you’ve done it every day for the last two years
 Should Lucia, when next month she entered on the supreme               or so. Except Sundays. Some people might say that you were
Municipal Office, continue to go down to the High Street                swanky because you were Mayor. Elizabeth would.”
every morning after breakfast with her market-basket, and
                                                                        “Possibly. But I should be puzzled, dear, to name off-hand
make her personal purchases at the shops of the baker, the
                                                                        anything that mattered less to me than what Elizabeth Mapp-
grocer, the butcher and wherever else the needs of the day’s
                                                                        Flint said, poor woman. Give me your opinion, not hers.”
catering directed? There were pros and cons to be considered,
and Lucia had been putting the case for both sides with the             “You might drop the marketing by degrees, if you felt it was
tedious lucidity of opposing counsel addressing the Court.              undignified,” said Georgie yawning. “Shop every day this
It might be confidently expected that, when she had finished            week, and only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday next
exploring the entire territory, she would be fully competent to         week—”
express the verdict of the jury and the sentence of the judge.          “No, dear,” interrupted Lucia. “That would be hedging, and I
In anticipation of the numerous speeches she would soon be              never hedge. One thing or the other.”
called upon to make as Mayor, she was cultivating, whenever
she remembered to do so, a finished oratorical style, and a             “A hedge may save you from falling into a ditch,” said Geor-
pedantic Oxford voice.                                                  gie brilliantly.
 “I must be very careful, Georgie,” she said. “Thoroughly               “Georgino, how epigrammatic! What does it mean exactly?
democratic as you know I am in the truest sense of the word,            What ditch?”
I shall be entrusted, on the ninth of November next, with the           “Any ditch,” said Georgie. “Just making a mistake and not
duty of upholding the dignity and tradition of my high office.          being judicious. Tilling is a mass of pitfalls.”
I’m not sure that I ought to go popping in and out of shops, as
I have hitherto done, carrying my market-basket and bustling             “I don’t mind about pitfalls so long as my conscience assures
about just like anybody else. Let me put a somewhat similar             me that I am guided by right principles. I must set an example
case to you. Supposing you saw a newly-appointed Lord                   in my private as well as my public life. If I decide to go on
Chancellor trotting round the streets of Westminster in shorts,         with my daily marketing I shall certainly make a point of buy-
for the sake of exercise. What would you feel about it? What            ing very cheap, simple provisions. Cabbages and turnips, for
would your reactions be?”                                               instance, not asparagus.”
“I hope you’re not thinking of putting on shorts, are you?”             “We’ve got plenty of that in the garden when it comes in,”
asked Georgie, hoping to introduce a lighter tone.                      said Georgie.
 “Certainly not,” said Lucia. “A parallel case only. And then           “—plaice, not soles. Apples,” went on Lucia, as if he hadn’t
there’s this. It would be intolerable to my democratic prin-            spoken. “Plain living in private—everybody will hear me
ciples that, if I went into the grocer’s to make some small             buying cheap vegetables—Splendour, those lovely gloves, in
purchase, other customers already there should stand aside              public. And high thinking in both.”
in order that I might be served first. That would never do.
                                                                        “That would sound well in your inaugural speech,” said
Never!”
                                                                        Georgie.
 Georgie surveyed with an absent air the pretty piece of
                                                                         “I hope it will. What I want to do in our dear Tilling is to
needlework on which he was engaged. He was embroidering
the Borough arms of Tilling in coloured silks on the back of            elevate the tone, to make it a real centre of intellectual and
the white kid gloves which Lucia would wear at the inaugural            artistic activity. That must go on simultaneously with social
ceremony, and he was not quite sure that he had placed the              reforms and the well-being of the poorer classes. All the slums
device exactly in the middle.                                           must be cleared away. There must be an end to overcrowd-
                                                                        ing. Pasteurisation of milk, Georgie; a strict censorship of the
 “How tar’some,” he said. “Well, it will have to do. I daresay it       films; benches in sunny corners. Of course, it will cost money.
will stretch right. About the Lord Chancellor in shorts. I don’t        I should like to see the rates go up by leaps and bounds.”
think I should mind. It would depend a little on what sort of
knees he had. As for other customers standing aside because             “That won’t make you very popular,” said Georgie.
you were the Mayor, I don’t think you need be afraid of that             “I should welcome any unpopularity that such reforms might
for a moment. Most unlikely.”                                           earn for me. The decorative side of life, too. Flower boxes in
Lucia became violently interested in her gloves.                        the windows of the humblest dwellings. Cheap concerts of
                                                                        first-rate music. The revival of ancient customs, like beating
 “My dear, they look too smart for anything,” she said. “Beau-
                                                                        the bounds. I must find out just what that is.”
tiful work, Georgie. Lovely. They remind me of the jewelled
gloves you see in primitive Italian pictures on the hands of            “The town-council went in procession round the boundaries
kneeling Popes and adoring Bishops.”                                    of the parish,” said Georgie, “and the Mayor was bumped on
                                                             Chapter I
                                                                    4
the boundary stones. Hadn’t we better stick to the question of          like that marvellous woman. But what a splendid notion to
whether you go marketing or not?”                                       listen to all that the moujiks said when their tongues were
                                                                        unloosed with vodka. In vino veritas.”
Lucia did not like the idea of being bumped on boundary
stones …                                                                “Not always,” said Georgie. “For instance, Major Benjy was
                                                                        sitting boozing in the club this afternoon. The wind was too
 “Quite right, dear. I lose myself in my dreams. We were talk-
                                                                        high for him to go out and play golf, so he spent his time in
ing about the example we must set in plain living. I wish it to
                                                                        port … Putting out in a gale, you see, or stopping in port.
be known that I do my catering with economy. To be heard
                                                                        Quite a lot of port.”
ordering neck of mutton at the butcher’s.”
                                                                        Georgie waited for his wife to applaud this pretty play upon
“I won’t eat neck of mutton in order to be an example to any-
                                                                        words, but she was thinking about herself and Catherine the
body,” said Georgie. “And, personally, whatever you settle to
                                                                        Great.
do, I won’t give up the morning shopping. Besides, one learns
all the news then. Why, it would be worse than not having the            “Well, wine wasn’t making him truthful, but just the oppo-
wireless! I should be lost without it. So would you.”                   site,” he went on. “Telling the most awful whoppers about the
                                                                        tigers he’d shot and his huge success with women when he
 Lucia tried to picture herself bereft of that eager daily inter-
                                                                        was younger.”
change of gossip, when her Tilling circle of friends bustled up
and down the High Street carrying their market-baskets and              “Poor Elizabeth,” said Lucia in an unsympathetic voice.
bumping into each other in the narrow doorways of shops.                 “He grew quite dreadful,” said Georgie, “talking about his
Rain or fine, with umbrellas and goloshes or with sunshades             bachelor days of freedom. And he had the insolence to dig me
and the thinnest blouses, it was the bracing hour that whetted          in the ribs and whisper ‘We know all about that, old boy, don’t
the appetite for the complications of life. The idea of miss-
                                                                        we? Ha ha. What?’”
ing it was unthinkable, and without the slightest difficulty
she ascribed exalted motives and a high sense of duty to its             “Georgie, how impertinent,” cried Lucia. “Why, it’s compar-
continuance.                                                            ing Elizabeth with me!”
 “You are right, dear,” she said. “Thank you for your guid-             “And me with him,” suggested Georgie.
ance! More than ever now in my new position, it will be                 “Altogether most unpleasant. Any more news?”
incumbent on me to know what Tilling is thinking and feel-
ing. My finger must be on its pulse. That book I was reading             “Yes; I saw Diva for a moment. Paddy’s not got mange.
the other day, which impressed me so enormously—what on                 Only a little eczema. And she’s quite determined to start
earth was it? A biography.”                                             her tea-shop. She asked me if I thought you would perform
                                                                        the opening ceremony and drink the first cup of tea. I said I
 “Catherine the Great?” asked Georgie. Lucia had dipped into            thought you certainly would. Such éclat for her if you went in
it lately, but the suggestion was intended to be humorous.              your robes! I don’t suppose there would be a muffin left in the
 “Yes: I shall forget my own name next. She always had her              place.”
finger on the pulse of her people: that I maintain was the real         Lucia’s brow clouded, but it made her happy to be on May-
source of her greatness. She used to disguise herself, you              oral subjects again.
remember, as a peasant woman—moujik, isn’t it?—and let
herself out of the back- door of the Winter Palace, and sat in          “Georgie, I wish you hadn’t encouraged her to hope that I
the bars and cafés or wherever they drink vodka and tea—                would,” she said. “I should be delighted to give Diva such
samovars—and hear what the common people were saying,                   a magnificent send-off as that, but I must be very careful.
astonishing her Ministers with her knowledge.”                          Supposing next day somebody opens a new boot-shop I shall
                                                                        have made a precedent and shall have to wear the first pair of
 Georgie felt fearfully bored with her and this preposterous            shoes. Or a hat-shop. If I open one, I must open all, for I will
rubbish. Lucia did not care two straws what “the common                 not show any sort of favouritism. I will gladly, ever so gladly,
people” were saying. She, in this hour of shopping in the High          go and drink the first cup of tea at Diva’s, as Mrs. Pillson, but
Street, wanted to know what fresh mischief Elizabeth Mapp-              not officially. I must be officially incognita.”
Flint was hatching, and what Major Benjy Mapp-Flint was at,
and whether Diva Plaistow’s Irish terrier had got mange, and            “She’ll be disappointed,” said Georgie.
if Irene Coles had obtained the sanction of the Town Survey-             “Poor Diva, I fear so. As for robes, quite impossible. The
ing Department to paint a fresco on the front of her house of a         Mayor never appears in robes except when attended by the
nude Venus rising from the sea, and if Susan Wyse had really            whole Corporation. I can hardly request my Aldermen and
sat down on her budgerigar, squashing it quite flat. Instead of         Councillors to have tea with Diva in state. Of course it’s most
which she gassed about the duty of the Mayor Elect of Tilling           enterprising of her, but I can’t believe her little tea-room will
to have her finger on the pulse of the place, like Catherine the        resemble the goldmine she anticipates.”
Great. Such nonsense was best met with a touch of sarcasm.
                                                                        “I don’t think she’s doing it just to make money,” said Geor-
 “That will be a new experience, dear,” he said. “Fancy your            gie, “though, of course she wouldn’t mind that.”
disguising yourself as a gypsy-woman and stealing out
                                                                         “What then? Think of the expense of cups and saucers and
through the back-door, and sitting in the bars of public-hous-
                                                                        tables and tea-spoons. The trouble, too. She told me she meant
es. I do call that thorough.”
                                                                        to serve the teas herself.”
 “Ah, you take me too literally, Georgie,” she said. “Only a
                                                                        “It’s just that she’ll enjoy so much,” said Georgie, “popping in
loose analogy. In some respects I should be sorry to behave
 Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                            E. F. Benson
                                                                       5
and out and talking to her customers. She’s got a raving pas-              himself in a withering whisper. “Catherine the Great! De-
sion for talking to anybody, and she finds it such silent work             lirium! She thinks the whole town is as wildly excited about
living alone. She’ll have constant conversation if her tea-room            her being Mayor as she is herself. Whereas it’s a matter of
catches on.”                                                               supreme indifference to them … All except Elizabeth, who
                                                                           trembles with rage and jealousy whenever she sees Lucia …
 “Well, you may be right,” said Lucia. “Oh, and there’s another
                                                                           But she always did that … Bother! I’ve dropped my soap and
thing. My Mayoral banquet. I lay awake half last night—
                                                                           it slips away like an eel … All very tar’some. Lucia can’t talk
perhaps not quite so much—thinking about it, and I don’t see
                                                                           about anything else … Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, there’s
how you can come to it.”
                                                                           nothing but that … Mayoral complex … It’s a crashing bore,
“That’s sickening,” said Georgie. “Why not?”                               that’s what it is … Everlastingly reminding me that I’ve no
“It’s very difficult. If I ask you, it will certainly set a prec-          official position … Hullo, who’s that? No, you can’t come in,
edent—”                                                                    whoever you are.”

“You think too much about precedents,” interrupted Georgie.                A volley of raps had sounded at the door of the bathroom.
“Nobody will care.”                                                        Then Lucia’s voice:

 “But listen. The banquet is entirely official. I shall ask the            “No, I don’t want to come in,” she said. “But, eureka, Geor-
Mayors of neighbouring boroughs, the Bishop, the Lord                      gie. Ho trovato: ho ben trovato!”
Lieutenant, the Vicar, who is my Chaplain, my Aldermen and                 “What have you found?” called Georgie, sitting up in his
Councillors, and Justices of the Peace. You, dear, have no of-             bath.
ficial position. We are, so to speak, like Queen Victoria and the
                                                                           “It. Me. My banquet. You and my banquet. I’ll tell you at din-
Prince Consort.”
                                                                           ner. Be quick.”
“You said that before,” said Georgie, “and I looked it up.
                                                                           “Probably she’ll let me hand the cheese,” thought Georgie,
When she opened Parliament he drove with her to Westmin-
                                                                           still feeling morose. “I’m in no hurry to hear that.”
ster and sat beside her on a throne. A throne—”
                                                                            He padded back to his bedroom in his dressing-gown and
“I wonder if that is so. Some of those lives of the Queen are
                                                                           green morocco slippers. A parcel had arrived for him while he
very inaccurate. At that rate, the wife of the Lord Chancellor
                                                                           was at his bath, and Foljambe, the parlour-maid valet had put
ought to sit on a corner of the Woolsack. Besides, where are
                                                                           it on his pink bed-quilt.
you to be placed? You can’t sit next me. The Lord Lieutenant
must be on my right and the Bishop on my left—”                            “It must be my new dinner suit,” he said to himself. “And
                                                                           with all this worry I’d quite forgotten about it.”
“If they come,” observed Georgie.
                                                                            He cut the string and there it was: jacket and waistcoat and
 “Naturally they won’t sit there if they don’t. After them come
                                                                           trousers of ruby-coloured velvet, with synthetic-onyx but-
the Mayors, Aldermen and Councillors. You would have to sit
                                                                           tons, quite superb. It was Lucia’s birthday present to him; he
below them all, and that would be intolerable to me.”
                                                                           was to order just what dinner-suit he liked, and the bill was
“I shouldn’t mind where I sat,” said Georgie.                              to be sent to her. She knew nothing more, except that he had
“I should love you to be there, Georgie,” she said. “But in                told her that it would be something quite out of the common
what capacity? It’s all official, I repeat. Think of tradition.”           and that Tilling would be astonished. He was thrilled with its
                                                                           audacious beauty.
“But there isn’t any tradition. No woman has ever been
Mayor of Tilling before: you’ve often told me that. However,               “Now let me think,” he meditated. “One of my pleated shirts,
don’t let us argue about it. I expect Tilling will think it very           and a black butterfly tie, and my garnet solitaire. And my pink
odd if I’m not there. I shall go up to London that day, and then           vest. Nobody will see it, but I shall know it’s there. And red
you can tell them I’ve been called away.”                                  socks. Or daren’t I?”

“That would never do,” cried Lucia. “Tilling would think it                 He swiftly invested himself in this striking creation. It fitted
much odder if you weren’t here on my great day.”                           beautifully in front, and he rang the bell for Foljambe to see
                                                                           if it was equally satisfactory behind. Her masterful knock
“Having dinner alone at Mallards,” said Georgie bitterly.                  sounded on the door, and he said come in.
“The neck of mutton you spoke of.”
                                                                           Foljambe gave a shrill ejaculation.
He rose.
                                                                           “Lor!” she said. “Something fancy-dress, sir?”
 “Time for my bath,” he said. “And I shan’t talk about it or
think about it any more. I leave it to you.”                               “Not at all,” said Georgie. “My new evening suit. Isn’t it
                                                                           smart, Foljambe? Does it fit all right at the back?”
 Georgie went upstairs, feeling much vexed. He undressed
and put on his blue silk dressing-gown, and peppered his                   “Seems to,” said Foljambe, pulling his sleeve. “Stand a bit
bath with a liberal allowance of verbena salts. He submerged               straighter, sir. Yes, quite a good fit. Nearly gave me one.”
himself in the fragrant liquid, and concentrated his mind on               “Don’t you like it?” asked Georgie anxiously.
the subject he had resolved not to think about any more. Just
                                                                            “Well, a bit of a shock, sir. I hope you won’t spill things on
now Lucia seemed able to apply her mind to nothing except
                                                                           it, for it would be a rare job to get anything sticky out of the
herself and the duties or dignities of her coming office.
                                                                           velvet, and you do throw your food about sometimes. But it is
“’Egalo-megalo-mayoralo-mania’, I call it,” Georgie said to                pretty now I begin to take it in.”
                                                                    Chapter I
                                                                      6
 Georgie went into his sitting-room next door, where there                bank, and starting on their Royal errand. One would use
was a big mirror over the fireplace, and turned on all the                the railway. I wonder if it could be managed. The Royal Fish
electric lights. He got up on a chair, so that he could get a             Express.”
more comprehensive view of himself, and revolved slowly in                 “Do you propose a special train full of soles and lobsters
the brilliant light. He was so absorbed in his Narcissism that            twice a week for Buckingham Palace or Royal Lodge?” he
he did not hear Lucia come out of her bedroom. The door was               asked.
ajar, and she peeped in. She gave a strangled scream at the
sight of a large man in a glaring red suit standing on a chair             “A refrigerating van would be sufficient. I daresay if I
with his back to her. It was unusual. Georgie whisked round               searched in the archives I should find that Tilling had the
at her cry.                                                               monopoly of supplying the Royal table, and that the right
                                                                          has never been revoked. If so, I should think a petition to the
“Look!” he said. “Your delicious present. There it was when I             King: ‘Your Majesty’s loyal subjects of Tilling humbly pray
came from my bath. Isn’t it lovely?”                                      that this privilege be restored to them’. Or perhaps some pre-
Lucia recovered from her shock.                                           liminary enquiries from the Directors of the Southern Railway
                                                                          first. Such prestige. And a steady demand would be a wonder-
“Positively Venetian, Georgie,” she said. “Real Titian.”
                                                                          ful thing for the fishing industry.”
“I think it’s adorable,” said Georgie, getting down. “Won’t
                                                                           “It’s got enough demand already,” said Georgie. “There isn’t
Tilling be excited? Thank you a thousand times.”
                                                                          too much fish for us here as it is.”
 “And a thousand congratulations, Georgino,” she said. “Oh,
                                                                           “Georgie! Where’s your political economy? Demand invari-
and my discovery! I am a genius, dear. There’ll be a high table
                                                                          ably leads to supply. There would be more fishing-smacks
across the room at my banquet with two tables joining it at
                                                                          built, more men would follow the sea. Unemployment would
the corners going down the room. Me, of course, in the centre
                                                                          diminish. Think of Yarmouth and its immense trade. How I
of the high table. We shall sit only on one side of these tables.
                                                                          should like to capture some of it for our Tilling! I mustn’t lose
And you can sit all by yourself exactly opposite me. Facing
                                                                          sight of that among all the schemes I ponder over so constant-
me. No official position, neither above or below the others.
                                                                          ly.… But I’ve had a busy day: let us relax a little and make
Just the Mayor’s husband close to her materially, but officially
                                                                          music in the garden-room.”
in the air, so to speak.”
                                                                          She rose, and her voice assumed a careless lightness.
 From below came the merry sound of little bells that an-
nounced dinner. Grosvenor, the other parlour-maid, was play-              “I saw to-day,” she said, “in one of my old bound-up volumes
ing quite a sweet tune on them to-night, which showed she                 of duets, an arrangement for four hands of Glazonov’s ‘Bac-
was pleased with life. When she was cross she made a snappy               chanal’. It looked rather attractive. We might run through it.”
jangled discord.                                                           Georgie had seen it, too, a week ago, and though most of Lu-
“That solves everything!” said Georgie. “Brilliant. How clever            cia’s music was familiar, he felt sure they had never tried this.
of you! I DID feel a little hurt at the thought of not being there.       He had had a bad cold in the head, and, not being up to their
Listen: Grosvenor’s happy, too. We’re all pleased.”                       usual walk for a day or two, he had played over the bass part
                                                                          several times while Lucia was out taking her exercise: some
He offered her his beautiful velvet arm, and they went down-
                                                                          day it might come in useful. Then this very afternoon, busy
stairs.
                                                                          in the garden, he had heard a long-continued soft-pedalled
 “And my garnet solitaire,” he said. “Doesn’t it go well with             tinkle, and rightly conjectured that Lucia was stealing a march
my clothes? I must tuck my napkin in securely. It would be                on him in the treble part … Out they went to the garden-
frightful if I spilt anything. I am glad about the banquet.”              room, and Lucia found the ‘Bacchanal’. His new suit made
 “So am I, dear. It would have been horrid not to have had you            him feel very kindly disposed.
there. But I had to reconcile the feelings of private life with the        “You must take the treble, then,” he said. “I could never read
etiquette of public life. We must expect problems of the sort to          that.”
arise while I’m Mayor—”
                                                                          “How lazy of you, dear,” she said, instantly sitting down.
“Such good fish,” said Georgie, trying to divert her from the             “Well, I’ll try if you insist, but you mustn’t scold me if I make
eternal subject.                                                          a mess of it.”
Quite useless.                                                             It went beautifully. Odd trains of thought coursed through
 “Excellent, isn’t it,” said Lucia. “In the time of Queen Eliza-          the heads of both. “Why is she such a hypocrite?” he won-
beth, Georgie, the Mayor of Tilling was charged with supply-              dered. “She was practising it half the afternoon.” … Simulta-
ing fish for the Court. A train of pack-mules was despatched              neously Lucia was saying to herself, “Georgie can’t be reading
to London twice a week. What a wonderful thing if I could get             it. He must have tried it before.” At the end were mutual con-
that custom restored! Such an impetus to the fishermen here.”             gratulations: each thought that the other had read it wonder-
                                                                          fully well. Then bed- time. She kissed her hand to him as she
 “The Court must have been rather partial to putrid fish,” said           closed her bedroom door, and Georgie made a few revolu-
Georgie. “I shouldn’t care to eat a whiting that had been car-            tions in front of his mirror before divesting himself of the new
ried on a mule to London in hot weather, or in cold, for that             suit. By a touching transference of emotions, Lucia had vivid
matter.”                                                                  dreams of heaving seas of ruby-coloured velvet, and Georgie
“Ah, I should not mean to go back to the mules,” said Lucia,              of the new Cunard liner, Queen Mary, running aground in the
“though how picturesque to see them loaded at the river-                  river on a monstrous shoal of whiting and lobsters.
 Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                             E. F. Benson
                                                                  7
 There was an early autumnal frost in the night, though not           have now removed all objectionable features. Georgie, when
severe enough to blacken the superb dahlias in Lucia’s gar-           next you come to see me, you won’t need to blush.”
den and soon melting. The lawn was covered with pearly                “I haven’t blushed once!” said Georgie indignantly. “How can
moisture when she and Georgie met at breakfast, and the red           you tell such fibs?”
roofs of Tilling gleamed bright in the morning sun. Lucia had
already engaged a shorthand and typewriting secretary to get           “Dear Irene is so full of vitality,” said Lucia as they regained
used to her duties before the heavy mayoral correspondence            the street. “Such ozone! She always makes me feel as if I was
began to pour in, but to-day the post brought nothing but a           out in a high wind, and I wonder if my hair is coming down.
few circulars at once committed to the waste- paper basket.           But so easily managed with a little tact—Ah! There’s Diva at
But it would not do to leave Mrs. Simpson completely idle, so,        her window. We might pop in on her for a minute, and I’ll
before setting out for the morning marketing, Lucia dictated          break it to her about a State-opening for her tea-rooms … Take
invitations to Mrs. Bartlett and the Padre, to Susan and Mr.          care, Georgie! There’s Susan’s Royce plunging down on us.”
Wyse, to Elizabeth Mapp-Flint and Major Benjy for dinner and          Mrs. Wyse’s huge car, turning into the High Street, drew up
Bridge the following night. She would write in the invocations        directly between them and Diva’s house. She let down the
and signatures when she returned, and she apologized in each          window and put her large round face where the window had
letter for the stress of work which had prevented her from            been. As usual, she had on her ponderous fur-coat, but on her
writing with her own hand throughout.                                 head was a quite new hat, to the side of which, like a cockade,
 “Georgie, I shall have to learn typing myself,” she said as          was attached a trophy of bright blue, green and yellow plum-
they started. “I can easily imagine some municipal crisis             age, evidently the wings, tail and breast of a small bird.
which would swamp Mrs. Simpson, quick worker though she               “Can I give you a lift, dear?” she said in a mournful voice.
is. Or isn’t there a machine called the dictaphone? … How             “I’m going shopping in the High Street. You, too, of course,
deliciously warm the sun is! When we get back I shall make a          Mr. Georgie, if you don’t mind sitting in front.”
water-colour sketch of my dahlias in the giardino segreto. Any
night might see them blackened, and I should deplore not              “Many thanks, dear Susan,” said Lucia, “but hardly worth
having a record of them. Ecco, there’s Irene beckoning to us          while, as we are in the High Street already.”
from her window. Something about the fresco, I expect.”                Susan nodded sadly to them, put up the window, and sig-
Irene Coles bounced out into the street.                              nalled to her chauffeur to proceed. Ten yards brought her to
                                                                      the grocer’s, and the car stopped again.
“Lucia, beloved one,” she cried. “It’s too cruel! That lousy
Town Surveying Department refuses to sanction my fresco-              “Georgie, it was the remains of the budgerigar tacked to
design of Venus rising from the sea. Come into my studio              her hat,” said Lucia in a thrilled whisper as they crossed the
and look at my sketch of it, which they have sent back to me.         street. “Yes, Diva: we’ll pop in for a minute.”
Goths and Vandals and Mrs. Grundys to a man and woman!”               “Wearing it,” said Diva in her telegraphic manner as she
The sketch was very striking. A nude, well-nourished, putty-          opened the front-door to them. “In her hat.”
coloured female, mottled with green shadows, was balanced             “Then is it true, Diva?” asked Lucia. “Did she sit down on her
on an oyster shell, while a prizefighter, representing the wind       budgerigar?”
and sprawling across the sky, propelled her with puffed
                                                                       “Definitely. I was having tea with her. Cage open. Budgerigar
cheeks up a river towards a red-roofed town on the shore
                                                                      flitting about the room. A messy bird. Then Susan suddenly
which presented Tilling with pre-Raphaelite fidelity.
                                                                      said ‘Tweet, tweet. Where’s my blue Birdie?’ Not a sign of it.
“Dear me! Quite Botticellian!” said Lucia.                            ‘It’ll be all right,’ said Susan. ‘In the piano or somewhere.’ So
 “What?” screamed Irene. “Darling, how can you compare                we finished tea. Susan got up and there was blue Birdie. Dead
my great deep-bosomed Venus, fit to be the mother of heroes,          and as flat as a pancake. We came away at once.”
with Botticelli’s anæmic flapper? What’ll the next generation          “Very tactful,” said Georgie. “But the head wasn’t on her hat,
in Tilling be like when my Venus gets ashore?”                        I’m pretty sure.”
“Yes. Quite. So vigorous! So allegorical!” said Lucia. “But,          “Having it stuffed, I expect. To be added later between the
dear Irene, do you want everybody to be reminded of that              wings. And what about those new clothes, Mr. Georgie?”
whenever they go up and down the street?”
                                                                       “How on earth did you hear that?” said Georgie in great
 “Why not? What can be nobler than Motherhood?” asked                 astonishment. How news travelled in Tilling! Only last night,
Irene.                                                                dining at home, he had worn the ruby-coloured velvet for the
“Nothing! Nothing!” Lucia assured her. “For a maternity               first time, and now, quite early next morning, Diva had heard
home—”                                                                about it. Really things were known in Tilling almost before
                                                                      they happened.
Irene picked up her sketch and tore it across.
                                                                       “My Janet was posting a letter, ten p.m.,” said Diva. “Fol-
 “I know what I shall do,” she said. “I shall turn my wondrous        jambe was posting a letter. They chatted. And are they really
Hellenic goddess into a Victorian mother. I shall dress her in        red?”
a tartan shawl and skirt and a bonnet with a bow underneath
her chin and button-boots and a parasol. I shall give my lusty         “You’ll see before long,” said Georgie, pleased to know that
South Wind a frock-coat and trousers and a top-hat, and send          interest in his suit was blazing already. “Just wait and see.”
the design back to that foul-minded Department asking if I            All this conversation had taken place on Diva’s doorstep.
                                                               Chapter I
                                                                    8
 “Come in for a minute,” she said. “I want to consult you                “Better put it back on the seat inside,” whispered Lucia. “Not
about my parlour, when I make it into a tea-room. Shall take            tactful to give it her in public. She’ll see it when she gets in.”
away those two big tables, and put in six little ones, for four         “She may sit down on it again,” whispered Georgie.
at each. Then there’s the small room at the back full of things
I could never quite throw away. Bird-cages. Broken coal-scut-           “Oh, the far seat: that’ll do. She can’t miss it.”
tles. Old towel- horses. I shall clear them out now, as there’s         He placed it carefully in the car, and they walked on.
no rummage-sale coming on. Put that big cupboard there
against the wall, and a couple of card tables. People might like         “It’s always a joy to devise those little unseen kindnesses,”
a rubber after their tea if it’s raining. Me always ready to make       said Lucia. “Poulterer’s first, Georgie. If all my guests accept
a fourth if wanted. Won’t that be cosy?”                                for to-morrow, I had better bespeak two brace of partridges.”

 “Very cosy indeed,” said Lucia. “But may you provide facili-           “Delicious,” said Georgie, “but how about the plain living?
ties for gambling in a public place, without risking a police-          Oh I see: that’ll be after you become Mayor … Good morning,
raid?”                                                                  Padre.”

“Don’t see why not,” said Diva. “I may provide chess or                  The Reverend Kenneth Bartlett stepped out of a shop in
draughts, and what’s to prevent people gambling at them?                front. He always talked a mixture of faulty Scots and spurious
Why not cards? And you will come in your robes, won’t you,              Elizabethan English. It had been a playful diversion at first,
on Mayoring day, to inaugurate my tea-rooms?”                           but now it had become a habit, and unless carried away by the
                                                                        conversation he seldom spoke the current tongue.
 “My dear, quite impossible,” said Lucia firmly. “As I told
Georgie, I should have to be attended by my Aldermen and                 “Guid morrow, richt worshipful leddy,” he said. “Well met,
Councillors, as if it was some great public occasion. But I’ll          indeed, for there’s a sair curiosity abroad, and ‘tis you who
come as Mrs. Pillson, and everyone will say that the Mayor              can still it. Who’s the happy wumman whom ye’ll hae for
performed the opening ceremony. But, officially, I must be              your Mayoress?”
incognita.”                                                             “That’s the second time I’ve been asked that this morning,”
“Well, that’s something,” said Diva. “And may I put up some             said Lucia. “I’ve had no official information that I must have
posters to say that Mrs. Pillson will open it?”                         one.”

 “There can be no possible objection to that,” said Lucia with           “A’weel. It’s early days yet. A month still before you need her.
alacrity. “That will not invalidate my incognita. Just some big         But ye mun have one: Mayor and Mayoress, ‘tis the law o’ the
lettering at the top ‘Ye Olde Tea-House’, and, if you think my          land. I was thinking—”
name will help, big letters again for ‘Mrs. Pillson’ or ‘Mrs.           He dropped his voice to a whisper.
Pillson of Mallards’. Quite. Any other news? I know that your
                                                                        “There’s that helpmate of mine,” he said. “Not that there’s
Paddy hasn’t got mange.”
                                                                        been any colloquy betune us. She just passed the remark this
“Nothing, I think. Oh yes, Elizabeth was in here just now, and          morning: ‘I wonder who Mistress Pillson will select for her
asked me who was to be your Mayoress?”                                  Mayoress,’ and I said I dinna ken and left it there.”
“My Mayoress?” asked Lucia. “Aren’t I both?”                            “Very wise,” said Lucia encouragingly.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Diva. “But she says she’s sure all        The Padre’s language grew almost Anglicized.
Mayors have Mayoresses.”
                                                                         “But it put an idea into my head, that my Evie might be will-
 “Poor Elizabeth: she always gets things muddled. Oh, Diva,             ing to help you in any way she could. She’d keep you in touch
will you—No nothing: I’m muddled, too. Goodbye, dear. All               with all Church matters which I know you have at heart, and
too cosy for words. A month to-day, then, for the opening.              Sunday Schools and all that. Mind. I don’t promise that she’d
Georgie, remind me to put that down.”                                   consent, but I think ‘tis likely, though I wouldn’t encourage
Lucia and her husband passed on up the street.                          false hopes. All confidential, of course; and I must be step-
                                                                        ping.”
 “Such an escape!” she said. “I was on the point of asking Diva
to dine and play bridge to-morrow, quite forgetting that I’d            He looked furtively round as if engaged in some dark con-
asked the Bartletts and the Wyses and the Mapp-Flints. You              spiracy and stepped.
know, our custom of always asking husbands and wives to-                “Georgie, I wonder if there can be any truth in it,” said Lucia.
gether is rather Victorian. It dates us. I shall make innovations       “Of course, nothing would induce me to have poor dear little
when the first terrific weeks of office are over. If we always          Evie as Mayoress. I would as soon have a mouse. Oh, there’s
ask couples, single people like Diva get left out.”                     Major Benjy: he’ll be asking me next who my Mayoress is to
“So shall I if the others do it, too,” remarked Georgie. “Look,         be. Quick, into the poulterer’s.”
we’ve nearly caught up Susan. She’s going into the post-                They hurried into the shop. Mr. Rice gave her a low bow.
office.”                                                                “Good- morning, your worship—” he began.
 As Susan, a few yards ahead, stepped ponderously out of the            “No, not yet, Mr. Rice,” said Lucia. “Not for a month yet.
Royce, her head brushed against the side of the door, and a             Partridges. I shall very likely want two brace of partridges to-
wing from the cockade of bright feathers, insecurely fastened,          morrow evening.”
fluttered down on to the pavement. She did not perceive her
                                                                        “I’ve got some prime young birds, your worsh—ma’am,” said
loss, and went in to the office. Georgie picked up the plume.
                                                                        Mr. Rice.
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                     E. F. Benson
                                                                    9
“Very well. Please earmark four birds for me. I will let you
know the first thing to-morrow morning, if I require them.”             Chapter II
“Earmarked they are, ma’am,” said Mr. Rice enthusiastically.



                                                                        L
 Lucia peeped cautiously out. Major Benjy had evidently seen                      ucia found on her return to Mallards that Mrs.
them taking cover, and was regarding electric heaters in the                      Simpson had got through the laborious task of typing
shop next door with an absent eye. He saw her look out and                        three identical dinner invitations for next day to Mrs.
made a military salute.                                                 Wyse, Mrs. Bartlett and Mrs. Mapp- Flint with husbands. She
 “Good-morning,” he said cordially. “Lovely day isn’t it? Octo-         filled up in autograph “Dearest Susan, Evie and Elizabeth”
ber’s my favourite month. Chill October, what? I was wonder-            and was affectionately theirs. Rack her brains as she would
ing, Mrs. Pillson, as I strolled along, if you had yet selected         she could think of no further task for her secretary, so Mrs.
the fortunate lady who will have the honour of being your               Simpson took these letters to deliver them by hand, thus sav-
Mayoress.”                                                              ing time and postage. “And could you be here at nine-thirty
                                                                        to- morrow morning,” said Lucia, “instead of ten in case there
“Good morning, Major. Oddly enough somebody else asked
                                                                        is a stress of work? Things turn up so suddenly, and it would
me that very thing a moment ago.”
                                                                        never do to fall into arrears.”
 “Ha! I bet five to one I know who that was. I had a word or
                                                                        Lucia looked at her engagement book. Its fair white pages
two with the Padre just now, and the subject came on the
                                                                        satisfied her that there were none at present.
tapis, as they say in France. I fancy he’s got some notion that
that good little wife of his—but that would be too ridicu-               “I shall be glad of a few days’ quiet, dear,” she said to Geor-
lous—”                                                                  gie. “I shall have a holiday of painting and music and reading.
                                                                        When once the rush begins there will be little time for such
“I’ve settled nothing yet,” said Lucia. “So overwhelmed with            pursuits. Yet I know there was something very urgent that
work lately. Certainly it shall receive my attention. Elizabeth         required my attention. Ah, yes! I must find out for certain
quite well? That’s good.”                                               whether I must have a Mayoress. And I must get a telephone
She hurried away with Georgie.                                          extension into the garden-room, to save running in and out of
                                                                        the house for calls.”
“The question of the Mayoress is in the air like influenza,
Georgie,” she said. “I must ring up the Town Hall as soon               Lucia went in and rang up the clerk at the Town Hall. Yes: he
as I get in, and find out if I must have one. I see no necessity.       was quite sure that every Mayor had a Mayoress, whom the
There’s Susan Wyse beckoning again.”                                    Mayor invited to fill the post. She turned to Georgie with a
                                                                        corrugated brow.
Susan let down the window of her car.
                                                                        “Yes, it is so,” she said. “I shall have to find some capable
 “Just going home again,” she said. “Shall I give you a lift up         obliging woman with whom I can work harmoniously. But
the hill?”                                                              who?”
“No, a thousand thanks,” said Lucia. “It’s only a hundred                The metallic clang of the flap of the letter-box on the front
yards.”                                                                 door caused her to look out of the window. There was Diva
Susan shook her head sadly.                                             going quickly away with her scudding, birdlike walk. Lucia
                                                                        opened the note she had left, and read it. Though Diva was
“Don’t overdo it, dear,” she said. “As we get on in life we             telegraphic in conversation, her epistolary style was flowing.
must be careful about hills.”
                                                                           Dearest Lucia,
“This Mayoress business is worrying me, Georgie,” said
                                                                             I felt quite shy of speaking to you about it to-day, for writ-
Lucia when Susan had driven off. “If it’s all too true, and I                ing is always the best, don’t you think, when it’s difficult to
must have one, who on earth shall I get? Everyone I can think                find the right words or to get them out when you have, so
of seems so totally unfit for it. I believe, do you know, that it            this is to tell you that I am quite at your disposal, and shall
must have been in Major Benjy’s mind to recommend me to                      [Note: Line missing in scanned copy] much longer in Till-
                                                                             ing than you, dear, that perhaps I can be of some use in all
ask Elizabeth.”                                                              your entertainments and other functions. Not that I would
 “Impossible!” said Georgie. “I might as well recommend you                  ASK you to choose me as your Mayoress, for I shouldn’t
                                                                             think of such a thing. So pushing! So I just want to say that
to ask Foljambe.”                                                            I am quite at your service, as you may feel rather diffident
                                                                             about asking me, for it would be awkward for me to refuse,
                                                                             being such an old friend, if I didn’t feel like it. But I should
                                                                             positively enjoy helping you, quite apart from my duty as
                                                                             a friend.
                                                                                                                                Ever yours,

                                                                                                                                      Diva.
                                                                         “Poor dear, ridiculous little Diva!” said Lucia, handing Geor-
                                                                        gie this artless epistle. “So ambitious and so pathetic! And
                                                                        now I shall hurry off to begin my sketch of the dahlias. I will
                                                                        not be interrupted by any further public business this morn-
                                                                        ing. I must have a little time to myself—What’s that?”
                                                                        Again the metallic clang from the letter box, and Lucia,
                                                              Chapter II
                                                                       10
consumed with curiosity, again peeped out from a corner of              “She put Algernon up to writing that lovely letter,” said Geor-
the window and saw Mr. Wyse with his malacca cane and                   gie. “How they’re all struggling to be Mayoress!”
his Panama hat and his black velveteen coat, walking briskly            “I am not surprised, dear, at that,” said Lucia, with dignity.
away.                                                                   “No doubt also Evie got the Padre to recommend her—”
“Just an answer to my invitation for to-morrow, I expect,” she          “And Diva recommended herself,” remarked Georgie, “as she
said. “Susan probably doesn’t feel up to writing after the loss         hadn’t got anyone to do it for her.”
of her budgerigar. She had a sodden and battered look this
morning, didn’t you think, like a cardboard box that has been            “And Major Benjy was certainly going to say a word for Eliza-
out in the rain. Flaccid. No resilience.”                               beth, if I hadn’t cut him short,” said Lucia. “I find it all rather
                                                                        ugly, though, poor things, I sympathise with their ambitions
 Lucia had taken Mr. Wyse’s letter from the post-box, as she            which in themselves are noble. I shall have to draft two very
made these tonic remarks. She glanced through it, her mouth             tactful letters to Diva and Mr. Wyse, before Mrs. Simpson
falling wider and wider open.
                                                                        comes to-morrow. What a good thing I told her to come at
“Listen, Georgie!” she said:                                            half-past nine. But just for the present I shall dismiss it all
   Dear And Worshipful Mayor-Elect,                                     from my mind, and seek an hour’s peace with my paint-box
                                                                        and my belli fiori. What are you going to do till lunch?”
     It has reached my ears (Dame Rumour) that during the
     coming year, when you have so self-sacrificingly con-               “It’s my day for cleaning my bibelots,” said Georgie. “What a
     sented to fill the highest office which our dear little Tilling    rush it all is!”
     can bestow, thereby honouring itself so far more than you,
     you will need some partner to assist you in your arduous            Georgie went to his sitting-room and got busy. Soon he
     duties. From little unconscious signs, little involuntary self-    thought he heard another metallic clang from the post-box,
     betrayals that I have observed in my dear Susan, I think I         and hurrying to the window, he saw Major Benjy walking
     may encourage you to hope that she MIGHT be persuad-
     ed to honour herself and you by accepting the onerous              briskly away from the door.
     post which I hear is yet unfilled. I have not had any word          “That’ll be another formal application, I expect,” he said to
     with her on the subject. Nor is she aware that I am writing
     to you. As you know, she has sustained a severe bereave-
                                                                        himself, and went downstairs to see, with his wash-leather in
     ment in the sudden death of her little winged companion.           his hand. There was a letter in the post-box, but to his surprise
     But I have ventured to say to her, “Carissima sposa, you           it was addressed not to Lucia, but himself. It ran:
     must buck up. You must not let a dead bird, however dear,
     stand between you and the duties and opportunities of life             My Dear Pillson,
     which may present themselves to you.” And she answered                   My wife has just received Her Worship’s most amiable in-
     (whether she guessed the purport of my exhortation, I can-               vitation that we should dine chez vous to-morrow. I was on
     not say), “I will make an effort, Algernon.” I augur favour-             the point of writing to you in any case, so she begs me to
     ably from that.                                                          say we shall be charmed.
     Of the distinction which renders her so suitable for the post            Now, my dear old man (if you’ll permit me to call you so)
     of Mayoress I need not speak, for you know her charac-                   I’ve a word to say to you. Best always, isn’t it, to be frank
     ter so well. I might remind you, however, that our late be-              and open. At least that’s my experience in my twenty-
     loved Sovereign himself bestowed on her the insignia of                  five years of service in the King’s (God bless him) army.
     the Order of Member of the British Empire, and that she                  So listen. Re Mayoress. It will be a tremendous asset to
     would therefore bring to her new office a cachet unshared                your wife’s success in her most distinguished post, if she
     by any of the otherwise estimable ladies of Tilling. And in              can get a wise and level-headed woman to assist her. A
     this distressing estrangement which now exists between                   woman of commanding character, big-minded enough
     the kingdoms of England and Italy, the fact that my dear                 to disregard the little flurries and disturbances of her of-
     Susan is sister-in-law to my dear sister Amelia, Contessa                fice, and above all one who has tact, and would never
     di Faraglione, might help to heal the differences between                make mischief. Some of our mutual friends—I mention no
     the countries. In conclusion, dear lady, I do not think you              names—are only too apt to scheme and intrigue and in-
     could do better than to offer my Susan the post for which                dulge in gossip and tittle-tattle. I can only put my finger on
     her distinction and abilities so eminently fit her, and you              one who is entirely free from such failings, and that is my
     may be sure that I shall use my influence with her to get                dear Elizabeth. I can’t answer for her accepting the post.
     her to accept it.                                                        It’s a lot to ask of any woman, but in my private opinion, if
             A rivederci, illustrissima Signora, ed anche presto!             your wife approached Elizabeth in a proper spirit, making
                                                                              it clear how inestimable a help she (Elizabeth) would be
                                                 Algernon Wyse.               to her, (the Mayor), I think we might hope for a favourable
                                                                              reply. Perhaps to- morrow evening I might have a quiet
     P.S.: I will come round at any moment to confer with you.                word with you. Sincerely yours,
     P.P.S.: I reopen this to add that Susan has just received
     your amiable invitation for to-morrow, which we shall both                                      Benjamin Mapp-Flint (Major).
     be honoured to accept.
                                                                        Georgie with his wash-leather hurried out to the giardino
Lucia and Georgie looked at each other in silence at the end            segreto where Lucia was drawing dahlias. He held the letter
of the reading of this elegant epistle.                                 out to her, but she scarcely turned her head.
 “Beautifully expressed, I must allow,” she said. “Oh, Georgie,         “No need to tell me, dear, that your letter is on behalf of
it is a frightful responsibility to have patronage of this crucial      another applicant. Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, I believe. Read it me
kind in one’s gift! It is mine to confer not only an honour but         while I go on drawing. Such exquisite shapes: we do not look
an influence for good of a most far-reaching sort. A line from          at flowers closely enough.”
me and Susan is my Mayoress. But good Susan has not the
energy, the decision which I should look for. I could not rely          As Georgie read it she plied a steady pencil, but when he
on her judgment.”                                                       came to the sentence about approaching Elizabeth in a proper
                                                                        spirit, her hand gave a violent jerk.
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                          E. F. Benson
                                                                   11
 “Georgie, it isn’t true!” she cried. “Show me.… Yes. My india-         she could do was to thank her warmly for her offers of help
rubber? Ah, there it is.”                                               (“So like you, dear Diva!”) and to assure her that she would
                                                                        not hesitate to take advantage of them should occasion arise.
 Georgie finished the letter, and Lucia, having rubbed out the
                                                                        To Mr. Wyse she said that no one had a keener appreciation
random line her pencil had made, continued to draw dahlias
                                                                        of Susan’s great gifts (so rightly recognised by the King) than
with concentrated attention.
                                                                        she; no one more deplored the unhappy international rela-
 “Lucia, it’s too ridiculous of you to pretend to be absorbed           tions between England and Italy … Georgie briefly acknowl-
in your sketch,” he said impatiently. “What are you going to            edged Major Benjy’s letter and said he had communicated its
do?”                                                                    contents to his wife, who was greatly touched. Lucia thought
Lucia appeared to recall herself from the realms of peace and           that these letters had better not reach their recipients till after
beauty.                                                                 her party, and Mrs. Simpson posted them later in the day.

 “Elizabeth will be my Mayoress,” she said calmly. “Don’t you            Lucia was quite right about the husbands of expectant Mayor-
see, dear, she would be infinitely more tiresome if she wasn’t?         esses wanting a private word with Georgie that evening. Ma-
As Mayoress, she will be muzzled, so to speak. Officially, she          jor Benjy and Elizabeth arrived first, a full ten minutes before
will have to perform the tasks I allot to her. She will come to         dinner-time and explained to Foljambe that their clocks were
heel, and that will be very good for her. Besides, who else IS          fast, while Georgie in his new red velvet suit was putting the
there? Diva with her tea-shop? Poor Susan? Little mouse-like            menu-cards which Mrs. Simpson had typed on the dinner-ta-
Evie Bartlett?”                                                         ble. He incautiously put his head out of the dining-room door,
                                                                        while this explanation was going on, and Benjy spied him.
“But can you see yourself approaching Elizabeth in a proper
spirit?” he asked.                                                       “Ha, a word with you, my dear old man,” he exclaimed, and
                                                                        joined Georgie, while Elizabeth was taken to the garden-room
Lucia gave a gay trill of laughter.                                     to wait for Lucia.
 “Certainly I cannot. I shall wait for her to approach me. She           “’Pon my soul, amazingly stupid of us to have come so early,”
will have to come and implore me. I shall do nothing till               he said, closing the dining-room door behind him. “I told Liz
then.”                                                                  we should be too early—ah, our clocks were fast. Don’t let me
Georgie pondered on this extraordinary decision.                        interrupt you; charming flowers, and, dear me, what a hand-
                                                                        some suit. Just the colour of my wife’s dress. However, that’s
“I think you’re being very rash,” he said. “And you and Eliza-
                                                                        neither here nor there. What I should like to urge on you is to
beth hate each other like poison—”
                                                                        persuade your wife to take advantage of Elizabeth’s willing-
 “Emphatically no,” said Lucia. “I have had occasion some-              ness to become Mayoress, for the good of the town. She’s will-
times to take her down a peg or two. I have sometimes felt it           ing, I gather, to sacrifice her time and her leisure for that. Mrs.
necessary to thwart her. But hate? Never. Dismiss that from             Pillson and Mrs. Mapp-Flint would be an alliance indeed. But
your mind. And don’t be afraid that I shall approach her in             Elizabeth feels that her offer can’t remain open indefinitely,
any spirit at all.”                                                     and she rather expected to have heard from your wife to-day.”
“But what am I to say to Benjy when he asks me for a few                 “But didn’t you tell me, Major,” asked Georgie, “that your
private words to-morrow night?”                                         wife knew nothing about your letter to me? I understood that
Lucia laughed again.                                                    it was only your opinion that if properly approached—”

 “My dear, they’ll all ask you for a few private words to-mor-           There was a tap at the door, and Mr. Wyse entered. He was
row night. There’s the Padre running poor little Evie. There’s          dressed in a brand new suit, never before seen in Tilling, of
Mr. Wyse running Susan. They’ll all want to know whom I’m               sapphire blue velvet, with a soft pleated shirt, a sapphire soli-
likely to choose, and to secure your influence with me. Be like         taire and bright blue socks. The two looked like two middle-
Mr. Baldwin and say your lips are sealed, or like some other            aged male mannequins.
Prime Minister, wasn’t it? who said ‘Wait and see.’ Count-              Mr. Wyse began bowing.
ing Diva, there are four applicants now—remind me to tell
                                                                        “Mr. Georgie!” he said. “Major Benjy! The noise of voices. It
Mrs. Simpson to enter them all— and I think the list may be
                                                                        occurred to me that perhaps we men were assembling here ac-
considered closed. Leave it to me; be discreet … And the more
                                                                        cording to that pretty Italian custom, for a glass of vermouth,
I think of it, the more clearly I perceive that Elizabeth Mapp-
                                                                        so my wife went straight out to the garden-room. I am afraid
Flint must be my Mayoress. It is far better to have her on a
                                                                        we are some minutes early. The Royce makes nothing of the
lead, bound to me by ties of gratitude than skulking about like
                                                                        steep hill from Starling Cottage.”
a pariah dog, snapping at me. True, she may not be capable
of gratitude, but I always prefer to look for the best in people,       Georgie was disappointed at the ruby velvet not being the
like Mr. Somerset Maugham in his delightful stories.”                   only sartorial sensation of the evening, but he took it very
                                                                        well.
 Mrs. Simpson arriving at half-past nine next morning had to
wait a considerable time for Lucia’s tactful letters to Diva and        “Good evening,” he said. “Well, I do call that a lovely suit. I
Mr. Wyse; she and Georgie sat long after breakfast scribbling           was just finishing the flowers, when Major Benjy popped in.
and erasing on half-sheets and envelopes turned inside out              Let us go out to the garden-room, where we shall find some
till they got thoroughly tactful drafts. Lucia did not want to          sherry.”
tell Diva point- blank that she could not dream of asking her           Once again the door opened.
to be Mayoress, but she did not want to raise false hopes. All
                                                            Chapter II
                                                                   12
 “Eh, here be all the laddies,” said the Padre. “Mr. Wyse; a        tion, even at Lucia’s table, maintained so serious and solid a
handsome costume, sir. Just the colour of the dress wee wifie’s     tone. The ladies in particular, though the word Mayoress was
donned for this evening. She’s ganged awa’ to the garden-           never mentioned, vied with each other in weighty observa-
room. I wanted a bit word wi’ ye, Mr. Pillson, and your             tions bearing on municipal matters, in order to show the deep
parlour-maid told me you were here.”                                interest they took in them. It was as if they even engaged on a
                                                                    self-imposed vive-voce examination to exhibit their qualifica-
“I’m afraid we must go out now to the garden-room, Padre,”
                                                                    tions for the unmentioned post. They addressed their answers
said Georgie, rather fussed. “They’ll all be waiting for us.”
                                                                    to Lucia and of each other they were highly critical.
 It was difficult to get them to move, for each of the men stood
                                                                     “No, dear Evie,” said Elizabeth, “I cannot share your views
aside to let the others pass, and thus secure a word with Geor-
                                                                    about girl-guides. Boy scouts I wholeheartedly support. All
gie. Eventually the Church unwillingly headed the procession,
                                                                    that drill teaches them discipline, but the best discipline for
followed by the Army, lured by the thought of sherry, and Mr.
                                                                    girls is to help mother at home. Cooking, housework, lighting
Wyse deftly closed the dining-room door again and stood in
                                                                    the fire, father’s slippers. Don’t you agree, dear hostess?”
front of it.
                                                                     “Eh, Mistress Mapp-Flint,” said the Padre, strongly uphold-
 “A word, Mr. Georgie,” he said. “I had the honour yesterday
                                                                    ing his wife. “Ye havena’ the tithe of my Evie’s experience
to write a note to your wife about a private matter—not pri-
                                                                    among the bairns of the parish. Half the ailments o’ the lassies
vate from you, of course—and I wondered whether she had
                                                                    come from being kept at home without enough exercise and
spoken to you about it. I have since ascertained from my dear
                                                                    air and chance to fend for themselves. Easy to have too much
Susan—”
                                                                    of mother’s apron strings, and as fur father’s slippers I disap-
 The door opened again, and bumped against his heels and            prove of corporal punishment for the young of whatever sex.”
the back of his head with a dull thud. Foljambe’s face looked
                                                                    “Oh, Padre, how could you think I meant that!” exclaimed
in.
                                                                    Elizabeth.
“Beg your pardon, sir,” she said. “Thought I heard you go.”
                                                                     “And as for letting a child light a fire,” put in Susan, “that’s
“We must follow the others,” said Georgie. “Lucia will won-         most dangerous. No match-box should ever be allowed within
der what’s happened to us.”                                         a child’s reach. I must say too, that I wish the fire-brigade
 The wives looked enquiringly into the faces of their husbands      in Tilling was better organized and more efficient. If once a
as they filed into the garden-room to see if there was any          fire broke out here the whole town would be burned to the
news. Georgie shook hands with the women and Lucia with             ground.”
the men. He saw how well his suit matched Elizabeth’s gown,          “Dear Susan, is it possible you haven’t heard that there was
and Mr. Wyse’s might have been cut from the same piece as           a fire in Ford Place last week? Fancy! And you’re strangely
that of the Padre’s wife. Another brilliant point of colour was     in error about the brigade’s efficiency, for they were there in
furnished by Susan Wyse’s budgerigar. The wing that had             three minutes from the time the alarm was given, and the fire
been flipped off yesterday had been re-stitched, and the head,      was extinguished in five minutes more.”
as Diva had predicted, had been stuffed and completed the
                                                                    “Lucia, what is really wanted in Tilling,” said Susan, “is
bird. She wore this notable decoration as a centrepiece on
                                                                    better lighting of the streets. Coming home sometimes in the
her ample bosom. Would it be tactful, wondered Georgie, to
                                                                    evening my Royce has to crawl down Porpoise Street.”
admire it, or would it be tearing open old wounds again? But
surely when Susan displayed her wound so conspicuously,              “More powerful lamps to your car would make that all right,
she would be disappointed if he appeared not to see it. He          dear,” said Elizabeth. “Not a very great expense. The paving
gave her a glass of sherry and moved aside with her.                of the streets, to my mind, wants the most immediate atten-
                                                                    tion. I nearly fell down the other day, stepping in a great hole.
“Perfectly charming, Mrs. Wyse,” he said, looking pointedly
                                                                    The roads, too: the road opposite my house is little better than
at it. “Lovely! Most successful!”
                                                                    a snipe bog. Again and again I have written to the Hampshire
He had done right; Susan’s great watery smile spread across         Argus about it.”
her face.
                                                                        Mr. Wyse bowed across the table to her.
“So glad you like it,” she said, “and since I’ve worn it, Mr.
                                                                    “I regret to say I have missed seeing your letters,” he said.
Georgie, I’ve felt comforted for Blue Birdie. He seems to be
                                                                    “Very careless of me. Was there one last week?”
with me still. A very strong impression. Quite psychical.”
                                                                    Evie emitted the mouse-like squeak which denoted intense
“Very interesting and touching,” said Georgie sympatheti-
                                                                    private amusement.
cally.
                                                                     “I’ve missed them, too,” she said. “I expect we all have. In
 “Is it not? I am hoping to get into rapport with him again. His
                                                                    any case, Elizabeth, Grebe is outside the parish boundaries.
pretty sweet ways! And may I congratulate you, too? Such a
                                                                    Nothing to do with Tilling. It’s a County Council road you
lovely suit!”
                                                                    will find if you look at a map. Now the overcrowding in the
“Lucia’s present to me,” said Georgie, “though I chose it.”         town itself, Lucia, is another matter which does concern us. I
“What a coincidence!” said Susan. “Algernon’s new suit is my        have it very much at heart, as anybody must have who knows
present to him and he chose it. There are brain-waves every-        anything about it. And then there are the postal deliveries.
where, Mr. Georgie, beyond the farthest stars.”                     Shocking. I wrote a letter the other day—”

Foljambe announced dinner. Never before had conversa-                   This was one of the subjects which Susan Wyse had specially
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                       E. F. Benson
                                                                      13
mugged up. By leaning forward and putting an enormous el-                  forms of which our town most stands in need,” said Algernon.
bow on the table she interposed a mountain of healthy animal               “Her judgment is never at fault. I have often been struck—”
tissue between Evie and Lucia, and the mouse was obliterated               The Padre, speaking to Major Benjy, raised his voice for Geor-
behind the mountain.                                                       gie to hear and thumped the table.
 “And only two posts a day, Lucia,” she said. “You will find it             “Wee wifie’s energy is unbounded,” he said. “Often I say to
terribly inconvenient to get only two and the second is never              her: ‘Spare yourself a bitty’ I’ve said, and always she’s replied
anything but circulars. There’s not a borough in England so                ‘Heaven fits the back to the burden’ quo’ she, ‘and if there’s
ill- served. I’m told that if a petition is sent to the Postmaster-        more work and responsibility to be undertaken, Evie’s ready
General signed by fifty per cent. of the population he is bound            for it’.”
by law to give us a third delivery. Algernon and I would be
only too happy to get up this petition—”                                   “You mustn’t let her overtax herself, Padre,” said Benjy with
                                                                           great earnestness. “She’s got her hands over full already. Not
 Algernon from the other side of the table suddenly inter-                 so young as she was.”
rupted her.
                                                                           “Eh, that’s what ails all the ladies of Tilling,” retorted the
“Susan, take care!” he cried. “Your budgerigar: your rasp-                 Padre, “an’ she’ll be younger than many I could mention. An
berry soufflé!”                                                            abounding vitality. If they made me Lord Archbishop to-
 He was too late. The budgerigar dropped into the middle of                morrow, she’d be a mother in Israel to the province, and no
Susan’s bountifully supplied plate. She took it out, dripping              mistake.”
with hot raspberry juice and wrapped it in her napkin, moan-               This was too much for Benjy. It would have been a gross der-
ing softly to herself. The raspberry juice stained it red, as if           eliction of duty not to let loose his withering powers of satire.
Blue Birdie had been sat on again, and Foljambe very tactfully
handed a plate to Susan on which she deposited it. After so                “No no, Padre,” he said. “Tilling can’t spare you. Canterbury
sad and irrelevant an incident, it was hard to get back to high            must find someone else.”
topics, and the Padre started on a lower level.                             “Eh, well, and if the War Office tries to entice you away, Ma-
 “A cosy little establishment will Mistress Diva Plaistow be               jor, you must say no. That’ll be a bargain. But the point of my
running presently,” he said. “She tells me that the opening of             observation was that my Evie is aye ready and willing for any
it will be the first function of our new Mayor. A fine send-off            call that may come to her. That’s what I’m getting at.”
indeed.”                                                                    “Ha, ha, Padre; let me know when you’ve got it, and then I’ll
 A simultaneous suspicion shot through the minds of the can-               talk to you. Well, if the port is standing idle in front of you—”
didates present that Diva (incredible as it seemed) might be in             Georgie rose. He had had enough of these unsolicited testi-
the running. Like vultures they swooped on the absent prey.                monials, and when Benjy became satirical it was a symptom
“A little too cosy for my tastes,” said Elizabeth. “If all the ta-         that he should have no more port.
bles she means to put into her tea-room were full, sardines in             “I think it’s time we got to our Bridge,” he said. “Lucia will
a tin wouldn’t be the word. Not to mention that the occupants              scold me if I keep you here too long.”
of two of the tables would be being kippered up the chimney,
and two others in a gale every time the door was opened. And               They marched in a compact body to the garden-room, where
are you going to open it officially, dear Lucia?”                          Lucia had been keeping hopeful Mayoresses at bay with
                                                                           music, and two tables were instantly formed. Georgie and
“Certainly not,” said Lucia. “I told her I would drink the first           Elizabeth, rubies, played against the sapphires, Mr. Wyse and
cup of tea with pleasure, but as Mrs. Pillson, not as Mayor.”              Evie, and the other table was drab in comparison. The eve-
“Poor Diva can’t MAKE tea,” squeaked Evie. “She never                      ning ended unusually late, and it was on the stroke of mid-
could. It’s either hot water or pure tannin.”                              night when the three pairs of guests, unable to get a private
                                                                           word with either of their hosts, moved sadly away like a
 “And she intends to make all the fancy pastry herself,” said              vanquished army. The Royce conveyed the Wyses to Porpoise
Susan sorrowfully. “Much better to stick to bread and butter               Street, just round the corner, with Susan, faintly suggesting
and a plain cake. Very ambitious, I call it, but nowadays Diva’s           Salome, holding the plate with the bloodstained handkerchief
like that. More plans for all we know.”                                    containing the budgerigar; a taxi that had long been ticking
“And quite a reformer,” said Elizabeth. “She talks about a                 conveyed the Mapp-Flints to the snipe-bog, and two pairs of
quicker train service to London. She knows a brother-in-law                goloshes took the Padre and his wife to the Vicarage.
of one of the directors. Of course the thing is as good as done             Lucia’s tactful letters were received next morning. Mr. Wyse
with a word from Diva. It looks terribly like paranoia coming              thought that all was not yet lost, though it surprised him that
on.”                                                                       Lucia had not taken Susan aside last night and implored her
The ladies left. Major Benjy drunk off his port in a great                 to be Mayoress. Diva, on the other hand, with a more cor-
hurry, so as to get a full glass when it came round again.                 rect estimate of the purport of Lucia’s tact, was instantly sure
                                                                           that all was lost, and exclaiming, “Drat it, so that’s that,” gave
 “A very good glass of port,” he said. “Well, I don’t mind if I
                                                                           Lucia’s note to Paddy to worry, and started out for her morn-
fill up. The longer I live with my Liz., Pillson, the more I am
                                                                           ing’s shopping. There were plenty of absorbing interests to
astonished at her masculine grasp of new ideas.”
                                                                           distract her. Susan, with the budgerigar cockade in her hat,
 “My Susan’s remarks about an additional postal delivery and               looked out of the window of the Royce, but to Diva’s amaze-
lighting of the streets showed a very keen perception of the re-           ment the colour of the bird’s plumage had changed; it was
                                                              Chapter II
                                                                    14
flushed with red like a stormy sunset with patches of blue sky       lines as Elizabeth’s, only it had been Elizabeth and Susan who
behind. Could Susan, for some psychical reason, have dyed            (instead of revolting her) had been so vastly comical with
it? … Georgie and Lucia were approaching from Mallards,              their sudden interest in municipal affairs:
but Diva, after that tactful note, did not want to see her friend    “And, oh, dear me,” she said, “Mr. Wyse and Major Benjy
till she had thought of something pretty sharp to say. Turning       were just as bad. It was like that musical thing where you
towards the High Street she bumped baskets sharply with              have a tune in the treble, and the same tune next in the bass.
Elizabeth.                                                           Fugue; that’s it. Those four were just like a Bach concert. Ken-
“Morning, dear!” said Elizabeth. “Do you feel up to a chat?”         neth and I simply sat listening. And I’m much mistaken if
                                                                     Lucia and Mr. Georgie didn’t see through them all.”
“Yes,” said Diva. “Come in. I’ll do my shopping afterwards.
Any news?”                                                           Diva had now got a complete idea of what had taken place;
                                                                     clearly there had been a six-part fugue.
 “Benjy and I dined with Worshipful last night. Wyses, Bar-
tletts, Bridge. We all missed you.”                                   “But she’s got to choose somebody,” she said. “Wonder who
                                                                     it’ll be.”
“Wasn’t asked,” said Diva. “A good dinner? Did you win?”
                                                                         “Perhaps you, he, he!” squeaked Evie for a joke.
“Partridges a little tough,” said Elizabeth musingly. “Old
birds are cheaper, of course. I won a trifle, but nothing like       “That it won’t,” cried Diva emphatically, looking at the frag-
enough to pay for our taxi. An interesting, curious evening.         ments of Lucia’s tactful note scattered about the room. “Soon-
Rather revolting at times, but one mustn’t be captious. Evie         er sing songs in the gutter. Fancy being at Lucia’s beck and
and Susan— oh, a terrible thing happened. Susan wore the             call, whenever she wants something done which she doesn’t
bird as a breastplate, and it fell into the raspberry soufflé.       want to do herself. Not worth living at that price. No, thank
Plop!”                                                               you!”
Diva gave a sigh of relief.                                           “Just my fun,” said Evie. “I didn’t mean it seriously. And then
                                                                     there were other surprises. Mr. Georgie in a red—”
“THAT explains it,” she said. “Saw it just now and it puzzled
me. Go on, Elizabeth.”                                                   “I know; the colour of Elizabeth’s dyed one,” put in Diva.
 “Revolting, I was saying. Those two women. One talked                “—and Mr. Wyse in sapphire velvet,” continued Evie. “Just
about boy- scouts, and the other about posts, and then one           like my second-best, which I was wearing.”
about overcrowding and the other about the fire brigade. I           “No! I hadn’t heard that,” said Diva. “Aren’t the Tilling boys
just sat and listened and blushed for them both. So cheap and        getting dressy?”
obvious.”
                                                                      The tension increased during the next week to a point almost
“But what’s so cheap and obvious and blush-making?” asked            unbearable, for Lucia, like the Pythian Oracle in unfavourable
Diva. “It only sounds dull to me.”                                   circumstances, remained dumb, waiting for Elizabeth to im-
 “All that fictitious interest in municipal matters. What has        plore her. The strain was telling and whenever the telephone
Susan cared hitherto for postal deliveries, or Evie for over-        bell rang in the houses of any of the candidates she or her
crowding? In a nutshell, they were trying to impress Lucia,          husband ran to it to see if it carried news of the nomination.
and get her to ask them, at least one of them, to be Mayoress.       But, as at an inconclusive sitting of the Conclave of Cardinals
And from what Benjy told me, their husbands were just as             for the election of the Pontiff, no announcement came from
barefaced when we went into the garden-room. An evening of           the precinct; and every evening, since the weather was grow-
intrigue and self-advertisement. Pah!”                               ing chilly, a column of smoke curled out of the chimney of the
                                                                     garden-room. Was it that Lucia, like the Cardinals, could not
“Pah indeed!” said Diva. “How did Lucia take it?”
                                                                     make up her mind, or had she possibly chosen her Mayor-
“I really hardly noticed. I was too disgusted at all these un-       ess and had enjoined silence till she gave the word? Neither
derground schemings. So transparent! Poor Lucia! I trust she         supposition seemed likely, the first, because she was so very
will get someone who will be of use to her. She’ll be sadly at       decisive a person; the second, because it was felt that the cho-
sea without a woman of sense and experience to consult.”             sen candidate could not have kept it to herself.
“And was Mr. Georgie’s dinner costume very lovely?” asked             Then a series of curious things happened, and to the over-
Diva.                                                                wrought imagination of Tilling they appeared to be of the
Elizabeth half closed her eyes as if to visualise it.                nature of omens. The church clock struck thirteen one noon,
                                                                     and then stopped with a jarring sound. That surely augured
“A very pretty colour,” she said. “Just like the gown I had          ill for the chances of the Padre’s wife. A spring broke out in
dyed red not long ago, if you happen to remember it. Of              the cliff above the Mapp- Flint’s house, and, flowing through
course he copied it.”                                                the garden, washed the asparagus bed away. That looked like
 The front-door bell rang. It was quicker to answer it oneself,      Elizabeth’s hopes being washed away too. Susan Wyse’s Royce
thought Diva, than to wait for Janet to come up from the             collided with a van in the High Street and sustained damage
kitchen, and she trundled off.                                       to a mud-guard; that looked bad for Susan. Then Elizabeth,
                                                                     distraught with anxiety, suddenly felt convinced that Diva
“Come in, Evie,” she said, “Elizabeth’s here.”
                                                                     had been chosen. What made this the more probable was that
 But Elizabeth would not wait, and Evie, in turn, gave her own       Diva had so emphatically denied to Evie that she would ever
impressions of the previous evening. They were on the same           be induced to accept the post. It was like poor Diva to think
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                           E. F. Benson
                                                                    15
that anybody would believe such a monstrous statement; it
only convinced Elizabeth that she was telling a thumping                 Chapter III
lie, in order to conceal something. Probably she thought she
was being Bismarckian, but that was an error. Bismarck had


                                                                         F
said that to tell the truth was a useful trick for a diplomatist,                 ive minutes later Elizabeth again stood on the door-
because others would conclude that he was not. But he had                         step of Mallards, uncertain whether to go home to
never said that telling lies would induce others to think that                    Grebe by the Vicarage and tell inquisitive Evie the
he was telling the truth.                                                news, or via Irene and Diva. She decided on the latter route,
The days went on, and Georgie began to have qualms as to                 unconscious of the vast issues that hung on this apparently
whether Elizabeth would ever humble herself and implore the              trivial choice.
boon.                                                                    On this warm October morning, quaint Irene (having no
 “Time’s passing,” he said, as he and Lucia sat one morning in           garden) was taking the air on a pile of cushions on her door-
the garden-room. “What on earth will you do, if she doesn’t?”            step. She had a camera beside her in case of interesting figures
                                                                         passing by, and was making tentative jottings in her sketch-
 “She will,” said Lucia, “though I allow she has held out                book for her Victorian Venus in a tartan shawl. Irene noticed
longer than I expected. I did not know how strong that false             something peculiarly buoyant about Elizabeth’s gait, as she
pride of hers was. But she’s weakening. I’ve been sitting in the         approached, and with her Venus in mind she shouted to her:
window most of the morning—such a multiplicity of prob-
lems to think over— and she has passed the house four times              “Stand still a moment, Mapp. Stand on one leg in a poised
since breakfast. Once she began to cross the road to the front-          attitude. I want that prancing action. One arm forward if you
door, but then she saw me, and walked away again. The sight              can manage it without tipping up.”
of me, poor thing, must have made more vivid to her what                 Elizabeth would have posed for the devil in this triumphant
she had to do. But she’ll come to it. Let us discuss something           mood.
more important. That idea of mine about reviving the fishing             “Like that, you quaint darling?” she asked.
industry. The Royal Fish Express. I made a few notes—”
                                                                         “Perfect. Hold it for a second while I snap you first.”
Lucia glanced once more out of the window.
                                                                         Irene focused and snapped.
“Georgie,” she cried. “There’s Elizabeth approaching again.
                                                                         “Now half a mo’ more,” she said, seizing her sketchbook. “Be
That’s the fifth time. Round and round like a squirrel in its
                                                                         on the point of stepping forward again.”
cage.”
                                                                         Irene dashed in important lines and curves.
 She glided to her ambush behind the curtain, and, peeping
stealthily out, became like the reporter of the University boat-          “That’ll do,” she said. “I’ve got you. I never saw you so
race on the wireless.                                                    lissom and elastic. What’s up? Have you been successfully
                                                                         seducing some young lad in the autumn of your life?”
“She’s just opposite, level with the front-door,” she an-
nounced. “She’s crossing the road. She’s quickening up. She’s            “Oh, you shocking thing,” said Elizabeth.
crossed the road. She’s slowing down on the front-door steps.            “Naughty! But I’ve just been having such a lovely talk with
She’s raised her hand to the bell. She’s dropped it again.               our sweet Lucia. Shall I tell you about it, or shall I tease you?”
She turned half- round—no, I don’t think she saw me. Poor                “Whichever you like,” said Irene, putting in a little shading.
woman, what a tussle! Just pride. Georgie, she’s rung the bell.          “I don’t care a blow.”
Foljambe’s opened the door; she must have been dusting the
hall. Foljambe’s let her in, and has shut the door. She’ll be out        “Then I’ll give you a hint. Make a pretty curtsey to the May-
here in a minute.”                                                       oress.”
                                                                         “Rubbish,” said Irene.
Foljambe entered.
                                                                         “No, dear. Not rubbish. Gospel.”
“Mrs. Mapp-Flint, ma’am,” she said. “I told her you were
probably engaged, but she much wants to see you for a few                “My God, what an imagination you have,” said Irene. “How
moments on a private matter of great importance.”                        do you DO it? Does it just come to you like a dream?”
 Lucia sat down in a great hurry, and spread some papers on              “Gospel, I repeat,” said Elizabeth. “And such joy, dear, that
the table in front of her.                                               you should be the first to hear about it, except Mr. Georgie.”

 “Go into the garden, will you, Georgie,” she said, “for she’ll          Irene looked at her and was forced to believe. Unaffected bliss
never be able to get it out unless we’re alone. Yes, Foljambe;           beamed in Mapp’s face; she wasn’t pretending to be pleased,
tell her I can spare her five minutes.”                                  she wallowed in a bath of exuberant happiness.
                                                                          “Good Lord, tell me about it,” she said. “Bring another cush-
                                                                         ion, Lucy,” she shouted to her six-foot maid, who was leaning
                                                                         out of the dining-room window, greedily listening.
                                                                          “Well, dear, it was an utter surprise to me,” said Elizabeth.
                                                                         “Such a notion had never entered my head. I was just walking
                                                                         up by Mallards: I often stroll by to look at the sweet old home
                                                                         that used to be mine—”
                                                                         “You can cut all that,” said Irene.
                                                              Chapter III
                                                                      16
 “—and I saw Lucia at the window of the garden-room, look-             “Poor thing!” she said. “Like all habitual liars, she deceives
ing, oh, so anxious and worn. She slipped behind a curtain             herself far more often than she deceives others.”
and suddenly I felt that she needed me. A sort of presenti-            “But aren’t you going to DO anything?” asked Irene, dancing
ment. So I rang the bell—oh, and that was odd, too, for I’d            wild fandangoes on the doorstep. “Not tell her she’s a liar? Or,
hardly put my finger on it when the door was opened, as if             even better, tell her you never asked her to be Mayoress at all!
kind Foljambe had been waiting for me—and I asked her if               Why not? There was no one there but you and she.”
Lucia would like to see me.”
                                                                        “Dear Irene, you wouldn’t want me to lower myself to her
Elizabeth paused for a moment in her embroidery.                       level?”
 “So Foljambe went to ask her,” she continued, “and came                “Well, for once it wouldn’t be a bad thing. You can become
almost running back, and took me out to the garden-room.               lofty again immediately afterwards. But I’ll develop the snap-
Lucia was sitting at her table apparently absorbed in some             shot I made of her, and send it to the press as a photograph of
papers. Wasn’t that queer, for the moment before she had               our new Mayoress.”
been peeping out from behind the curtain? I could see she was
thoroughly overwrought and she gave me such an imploring                Within an hour the news was stale. But the question of how
look that I was quite touched.”                                        the offer was made and accepted was still interesting, and
                                                                       fresh coins appeared from Elizabeth’s mint: Lucia, it appeared
A wistful smile spread over Elizabeth’s face.                          had said “Beloved friend, I could never have undertaken my
 “And then it came,” she said. “I don’t blame her for holding          duties without your support” or words to that effect, and
back: a sort of pride, I expect, which she couldn’t swallow. She       Georgie had kissed the hand of the Mayoress Elect. No repu-
begged me to fill the post, and I felt it was my duty to do so. A      diation of such sensational pieces came from head-quarters
dreadful tax, I am afraid, on my time and energies, and there          and they passed into a sort of doubtful currency. Lucia merely
will be difficult passages ahead, for she is not always very           shrugged her shoulders, and said that her position forbade
easy to lead. What Benjy will say to me I don’t know, but I            her directly to defend herself. This was thought a little exces-
must do what I feel to be right. What a blessed thing to be able       sive; she was not actually of Royal blood. A brief tranquillity
to help others!”                                                       followed, as when a kettle, tumultuously boiling, is put on the
                                                                       hob to cool off, and the Hampshire Argus merely stated that
 Irene was holding herself in, trembling slightly with the ef-
                                                                       Mrs. Elizabeth Mapp-Flint (née Mapp) would be Mayoress of
fort.
                                                                       Tilling for the ensuing year.
Elizabeth continued, still wistfully.
                                                                        Next week the kettle began to lift its lid again, for in the same
“A lovely little talk,” she said, “and then there was Mr. Geor-        paper there appeared a remarkable photograph of the Mayor-
gie in the garden, and he came across the lawn to me with              ess. She was standing on one foot, as if skating, with the other
such questioning eyes, for I think he guessed what we had              poised in the air behind her. Her face wore a beckoning smile,
been talking about—”                                                   and one arm was stretched out in front of her in eager solicita-
Irene could contain herself no longer. She gave one maniac             tion. Something seemed bound to happen. It did.
scream.                                                                Diva by this time had furnished her tea-room, and was giving
 “Mapp, you make me sick,” she cried. “I believe Lucia has             dress- rehearsals, serving tea herself to a few friends and then
asked you to be Mayoress, poor misguided darling, but it               sitting down with them, very hot and thirsty. To-day Georgie
didn’t happen like that. It isn’t true, Mapp. You’ve been long-        and Evie were being entertained, and the Padre was expected.
ing to be Mayoress: you’ve been losing weight, not a bad               Evie did not know why he was late: he had been out in the
thing either, with anxiety. You asked her: you implored her. I         parish all day, and she had not seen him since after breakfast.
am not arguing with you, I am telling you … Hullo, here they           “Nothing like rehearsals to get things working smoothly,”
both come. It will be pretty to see their gratitude to you. Don’t      said Diva, pouring her tea into her saucer and blowing on it.
go, Mapp.”                                                             “There are two jams, Mr. Georgie, thick and clear, or is that
 Elizabeth rose. Dignity prevented her from making any reply           soup?”
to these gutter-snipe observations. She did it very well. She          “They’re both beautifully clear,” said Georgie politely, “and
paused to kiss her hand to the approaching Lucia, and walked           such hot, crisp toast.”
away without hurrying. But once round the corner into the
                                                                       “There should have been pastry-fingers as well,” said Diva,
High Street, she, like Foljambe, “almost ran”.
                                                                       “but they wouldn’t rise.”
Irene hailed Lucia.
                                                                           “Tar’some things,” said Georgie with his mouth full.
 “Come and talk for a minute, darling,” she said. “First, is it all
                                                                        “Stuck to the tin and burned,” replied Diva. “You must imag-
too true, Mayoress Mapp, I mean? I see it is. You had far better
                                                                       ine them here even for a shilling tea. And cream for eighteen-
have chosen me or Lucy. And what a liar she is! Thank God I
                                                                       penny teas with potted meat sandwiches. Choice of China or
told her so. She told me that you had at last swallowed your
                                                                       Indian. Tables for four can be reserved, but not for less.… Ah,
pride, and asked her—”
                                                                       here’s the Padre. Have a nice cup of tea, Padre, after all those
“What?” cried Lucia.                                                   funerals and baptisms.”
“Just that; and that she felt it was her duty to help you.”            “Sorry I’m late, Mistress Plaistow,” said he, “and I’ve a bit o’
Lucia, though trembling with indignation, was magnificent.             news, and what d’ye think that’ll be about? Shall I tease you,
                                                                       as Mistress Mapp-Flint says?”
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                          E. F. Benson
                                                                   17
“You won’t tease me,” said Georgie, “because I know it’s                “Take it all,” cried Diva. “And did they have lunch?”
about that picture of Elizabeth in the Hampshire Argus. And I            “They did that,” said the Padre, “though a sorry one it was.
can tell you at once that Lucia knew nothing about it, what-            It soon came out that Mr. McConnell was the Editor of the
ever Elizabeth may say, till she saw it in the paper. Nothing           Argus, and then indeed there was a terrifying glint in the
whatever, except that Irene had taken a snap-shot of her.”              lady’s eye. He made a hop and a skip of it when the collation
 “Well, then, you know nowt o’ my news. I was sitting in the            was done, leaving the twa together, and he told me about it
club for a bitty, towards noon, when in came Major Benjy, and           a’ when I met him half an hour ago and ‘twas that made me a
picked up the copy of the Hampshire Argus where was the                 bit late, for that’s the kind of tale ye can’t leave in the middle.
portrait of his guid wife. I heard a sort o’ gobbling turkey-           God knows what’ll happen now, and the famous riding-whip
cock noise and there he was, purple in the face, wi’ heathen            somewhere in the newspaper office.”
expressions streaming from him like torrents o’ spring. Out              The door-bell had rung while this epic was being related, but
he rushed with the paper in his hand— club-property, mind               nobody noticed it. Now it was ringing again, a long, uninter-
you, and not his at all—and I saw him pelting down the road             rupted tinkle, and Diva rose.
to Grebe.”
                                                                         “Shan’t be a second,” she said. “Don’t discuss it too much till
“No!” cried Diva.                                                       I get back.”
“Yes, Mistress Plaistow. A bit later as I was doing my parish           She hurried out.
visiting, I saw the Major again with the famous cane riding-
whip in his hand, with which, we’ve all heard often enough,              “It must be Elizabeth herself,” she thought excitedly. “No-
he hit the Indian tiger in the face while he snatched his gun to        body else rings like that. Using up such a lot of current,
shoot him. ‘No one’s going to insult my wife, while I’m above           instead of just dabbing now and then.”
ground,’ he roared out, and popped into the office o’ the               She opened the door. Elizabeth was on the threshold smiling
Hampshire Argus.”                                                       brilliantly. She carried in her hand the historic riding-whip.
“Gracious! What a crisis!” squeaked Evie.                               Quite unmistakable.
 “And that’s but the commencement, mem! The rest I’ve heard             “Dear one!” she said. “May I pop in for a minute. Not seen
from the new Editor, Mr. McConnell, who took over not a                 you for so long.”
week ago. Up came a message to him that Major Mapp-Flint                Diva overlooked the fact that they had had a nice chat this
would like to see him at once. He was engaged, but said he’d            morning in the High Street, for there was a good chance of
see the Major in a quarter of an hour, and to pass the time             hearing more. She abounded in cordiality.
wouldn’t the Major have a drink. Sure he would, and sure
he’d have another when he’d made short work of the first,                “Do come in,” she said. “Lovely to see you after all this long
and, to judge by the bottle, McConnell guessed he’d had a               time. Tea going on. A few friends.”
third, but he couldn’t say for certain. Be that as it may, when         Elizabeth sidled into the tea-room: the door was narrow for a
he was ready to see the Major, either the Major had forgotten           big woman.
what he’d come about, or thought he’d be more prudent not
                                                                        “Evie dearest! Mr. Georgie! Padre!” she saluted. “How de do
to be so savage, for a big man is McConnell, a very big man
                                                                        everybody. How cosy! Yes, Indian, please, Diva.”
indeed, and the Major was most affable, and said he’d just
looked in to pay a call on the newcomer.”                                She laid the whip down by the corner of the fireplace. She
                                                                        beamed with geniality. What turn could this humiliating inci-
“Well, that was a come-down,” ejaculated Georgie.
                                                                        dent have taken, everybody wondered, to make her so jocund
 “And further to come down yet,” said the Padre, “for they              and gay? In sheer absorption of constructive thought the
had another drink together, and the poor Major’s mind must              Padre helped himself to another dollop of red jam and ate it
have got in a fair jumble. He’d come out, ye see, to give the           with his teaspoon. Clearly she had reclaimed the riding-whip
man a thrashing, and instead they’d got very pleasant togeth-           from the Argus office but what next? Had she administered
er, and now he began talking about bygones being bygones.               to Benjy the chastisement he had feared to inflict on another?
That as yet was Hebrew-Greek to McConnell, for it was the               Meantime, as puzzled eyes sought each other in perplexity,
Art-Editor who’d been responsible for the picture of the                she poured forth compliments.
Mayoress and McConnell had only just glanced at it, thinking
                                                                         “What a banquet, Diva!” she exclaimed. “What a pretty
there were some queer Mayoresses in Hampshire, and then,
                                                                        tablecloth! If this is the sort of tea you will offer us when you
oh, dear me, if the Major didn’t ask him to step round and
                                                                        open, I shan’t be found at home often. I suppose you’ll charge
have a bit of luncheon with him, and as for the riding-whip it
                                                                        two shillings at least, and even then you’ll be turning people
went clean out of his head and he left it in the waiting-room
                                                                        away.”
at the office. There was Mistress Elizabeth when they got to
Grebe, looking out o’ the parlour window and waiting to see             Diva recalled herself from her speculations.
her brave Benjy come marching back with the riding-whip                  “No: this will be only a shilling tea,” she said, “and usually
shewing a bit of wear and tear, and instead there was the Ma-           there’ll be pastry as well.”
jor with no riding-whip at all, arm in arm with a total stranger
saying as how this was his good friend Mr. McConnell, whom              “Fancy! And so beautifully served. So dainty. Lovely flow-
he’d brought to take pot-luck with them. Dear, oh dear, what            ers on the table. Quite like having tea in the garden with no
wunnerful things happen in Tilling, and I’ll have a look at that        earwigs … I had an unexpected guest to lunch to-day.”
red conserve.”                                                          Cataleptic rigidity seized the entire company.
                                                           Chapter III
                                                                   18
 “Such a pleasant fellow,” continued Elizabeth. “Mr. McCon-         fast, Mistress,” cried the Padre, and he pounced on the card
nell, the new Editor of the Argus. Benjy paid a morning call        of error. “Rather like cheating: rather like Elizabeth” was the
on him at the office and brought him home. He left his tiger-       unspoken comment, and everyone remembered how she had
riding-whip there, the forgetful boy, so I went and reclaimed       tried the same device about eighteen months ago. The atmo-
it. Such a big man: Benjy looked like a child beside him.”          sphere grew acid. The Padre and Evie had to hurry off for a
                                                                    choir-practice, for which they were already late, and Elizabeth
Elizabeth sipped her tea. The rigidity persisted.
                                                                    finding she had not lost as much as she feared lingered for a
 “I never by any chance see the Hampshire Argus,” she said.         chat.
“Not set eyes on it for years, for it used to be very dull. All
                                                                        “Seen poor Susan Wyse lately?” she asked Diva.
advertisements. But with Mr. McConnell at the helm, I must
take it in. He seemed so intelligent.”                              Diva was feeling abrupt. It WAS cheating to try to mix up the
                                                                    cards like that.
 Imperceptibly the rigidity relaxed, as keen brains dissected
the situation … Elizabeth had sent her husband out to chastise      “This morning,” she said. “But why ‘poor’? You’re always
McConnell for publishing this insulting caricature of herself.      calling people ‘poor’. She’s all right.”
He had returned, rather tipsy, bringing the victim to lunch.        “Do you think she’s got over the budgerigar?” asked Eliza-
Should the true version of what had happened become cur-            beth.
rent, she would find herself in a very humiliating position
with a craven husband and a monstrous travesty unavenged.               “Quite. Wearing it to-day. Still raspberry-coloured.”
But her version was brilliant. She was unaware that the Argus       “I wonder if she has got over it,” mused Elizabeth. “If you ask
had contained any caricature of her, and Benjy had brought          me, I think the budgerigar has got over her.”
his friend to lunch. A perfect story, to the truth of which, no
doubt, Benjy would perjure himself. Very clever! Bravo Eliza-           “Not the foggiest notion what you mean,” said Diva.
beth!                                                                “Just what I say. She believes she is getting in touch with the
Of course there was a slight feeling of disappointment, for         bird’s spirit. She told me so herself. She thinks that she hears
only a few minutes ago some catastrophic development                that tiresome little squeak it used to make, only she now calls
seemed likely, and Tilling’s appetite for social catastrophe was    it singing.”
keen. The Padre sighed and began in a resigned voice “A’weel,       “Singing in the ears, I expect,” interrupted Diva. “Had it
all’s well that ends well”, and Georgie hurried home to tell Lu-    sometimes myself. Wax. Syringe.”
cia what had really happened and how clever Elizabeth had
                                                                        “—and the flutter of its wings,” continued Elizabeth.
been. She sent fondest love to Worshipful, and as there were
now four of them left, they adjourned to Diva’s card-room for       “She’s trying to get communications from it by automatic
a rubber of bridge.                                                 script. I hope our dear Susan won’t go dotty.”
 Diva’s Janet came up to clear tea away, and with her the            “Rubbish!” said Diva severely, her thoughts going back again
bouncing Irish terrier, Paddy, who had only got a little ec-        to that revoke. She moved her chair up to the fire, and extin-
zema. He scouted about the room, licking up crumbs from the         guished Elizabeth by opening the evening paper.
floor and found the riding-whip. It was of agreeable texture            The Mayoress bristled and rose.
for the teeth, just about sufficiently tough to make gnawing a
pleasure as well as a duty. He picked it up, and, the back-door     “Well, we shall see whether it’s rubbish or not,” she said.
being open, took it into the wood-shed and dealt with it. He        “Such a lovely game of Bridge, but I must be off. Where’s
went over it twice, reducing it to a wet and roughly minced         Benjy’s riding- whip?”
sawdust. There was a silver cap on it, which he spurned and             “Wherever you happened to put it, I suppose,” said Diva.
when he had triturated or swallowed most of the rest, he
                                                                        Elizabeth looked in the corner by the fireplace.
rolled in the debris and shook himself. Except for the sil-
ver cap, no murderer could have disposed of a corpse with               “That’s where I put it,” she said. “Who can have moved it?”
greater skill.                                                          “You, of course. Probably took it into the card-room.”
Upstairs the geniality of the tea-table had crumbled over           “I’m perfectly certain I didn’t,” said Elizabeth, hurrying there.
cards. Elizabeth had been losing and she was feeling hot. She       “Where’s the switch, Diva?”
said to Diva “This little room—so cosy—is quite stifling, dear.
May we have the window open?” Diva opened it as a deal                  “Behind the door.”
was in progress, and the cards blew about the table: Eliza-          “What an inconvenient place to put it. It ought to have been
beth’s remnant consisted of Kings and aces, but a fresh deal        the other side.”
was necessary. Diva dropped a card on the floor, face up-
wards, and put her foot on it so nimbly that nobody could see       Elizabeth cannoned into the card-table and a heavy fall of
what it was. She got up to fetch the book of rules to see what      cards and markers followed.
ought to happen next, and, moving her foot disclosed an ace.            “Afraid I’ve upset something,” she said. “Ah, I’ve got it.”
Elizabeth demanded another fresh deal. That was conceded,
                                                                     “I said you’d taken it there yourself,” said Diva. “Pick those
but it left a friction. Then towards the end of a hand, Eliza-
                                                                    things up.”
beth saw that she had revoked, long, long ago, and detection
was awaiting her. “I’ll give you the last trick,” she said, and         “No, not the riding-whip; the switch,” she said.
attempted to jumble up together all the cards. “Na, na, not so          Elizabeth looked in this corner and that, and under tables and
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                           E. F. Benson
                                                                    19
chairs, but there was no sign of what she sought. She came                “Third, dear,” said Elizabeth, uneasily wondering what
out, leaving the light on.                                               Georgie meant by the series of adventures. “But that would
“Not here,” she said. “Perhaps the Padre has taken it. Or                be premature for the present. I must search a little more here,
Evie.”                                                                   for it must be somewhere. Oh, here’s Paddy. Good dog! Come
                                                                         to help Auntie Mayoress to find pretty riding-whip? Seek it,
“Better go round and ask them,” said Diva.                               Paddy.”
“Thank you, dear. Or might I use your telephone? It would                 Paddy, intelligently following Elizabeth’s pointing hand,
save me a walk.”                                                         thought it must be a leaf of Diva’s evening paper, which she
The call was made, but they were both at choir-practice.                 had dropped on the floor, that Auntie Mayoress wanted. He
“Or Mr. Georgie, do you think?” asked Elizabeth. “I’ll just              pounced on it, and worried it.
enquire.”                                                                 “Paddy, you fool,” cried Diva. “Drop it at once. Torn to bits
 Now one of Diva’s most sacred economies was the telephone.              and all wet. Entirely your fault, Elizabeth.” She rose, intensely
She would always walk a reasonable distance herself to avoid             irritated.
these outlays which, though individually small, mounted up                “You must give it up for the present,” she said to Elizabeth
so ruinously.                                                            who was poking about among the logs in the wood-basket.
“If you want to telephone to all Tilling, Elizabeth,” she said,          “All most mysterious, I allow, but it’s close on my supper-time,
“you’d better go home and do it from there.”                             and that interests me more.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Elizabeth effusively; “I’ll pay            Elizabeth was most reluctant to return to Benjy with the news
you for the calls now, at once.”                                         that she had called for the riding-whip at the office of the
She opened her bag, dropped it, and a shower of coins of low             Argus and had subsequently lost it.
denomination scattered in all directions on the parquet floor.            “But it’s Benjy’s most cherished relic,” she said. “It was the
 “Clumsy of me,” she said, pouncing on the bullion. “Nine-               very riding-whip with which he smacked the tiger over the
pence in coppers, two sixpences and a shilling, but I know               face, while he picked up his rifle and then shot him.”
there was a threepenny bit. It must have rolled under your                “Such a lot of legends aren’t there?” said Diva menacingly.
pretty sideboard. Might I have a candle, dear?”                          “And if other people get talking there may be one or two
 “No,” said Diva firmly. “If there’s a threepenny bit, Janet will        more, just as remarkable. And I want my supper.”
find it when she sweeps in the morning. You must get along                Elizabeth paused in her search. This dark saying produced an
without it till then.”                                                   immediate effect.
“There’s no ‘if’ about it, dear. There WAS a threepenny bit. I            “Too bad of me to stop so long,” she said. “And thanks, dear,
specially noticed it because it was a new one. With your per-            for my delicious tea. It would be kind of you if you had an-
mission I’ll ring up Mallards.”                                          other look round.”
 Foljambe answered. No; Mr. Georgie had taken his umbrella                Diva saw her off. The disappearance of the riding-whip was
when he went out to tea, and he couldn’t have brought back a             really very strange: positively spooky. And though Elizabeth
riding-whip by mistake … Would Foljambe kindly make sure                 had been a great nuisance, she deserved credit and sympathy
by asking him … He was in his bath … Then would she just                 for her ingenious version of the awkward incident … She
call through the door. Mrs. Mapp-Flint would hold the line.              looked for the pennies which Elizabeth had promised to pay
 As Elizabeth waited for the answer, humming a little tune, Ja-          at once for those telephone calls, but there was no trace of
net came in with Diva’s glass of sherry. She put up two fingers          them, and all her exasperation returned.
and her eyebrows to enquire whether she should bring two
                                                                         “Just like her,” she muttered. “That’s the sort of thing that re-
glasses, and Diva shook her head. Presently Georgie came to
                                                                         ally annoys me. So mean!”
the telephone himself.
                                                                          It was Janet’s evening out, and after eating her supper, Diva
“Wouldn’t have bothered you for words, Mr. Georgie,” said
                                                                         returned to the tea-room for a few games of patience. It was
Elizabeth. “Foljambe said you were in your bath. She must
                                                                         growing cold; Janet had forgotten to replenish the wood-
have made a mistake.”
                                                                         basket, and Diva went out to the wood-shed with an electric
“I was just going,” said Georgie rather crossly, for the water           torch to fetch in a few more logs. Something gleamed in the
must be getting cold. “What is it?”                                      light, and she picked up a silver cap, which seemed vaguely
 “Benjy’s riding-whip has disappeared most mysteriously, and             familiar. A fragment of chewed wood projected from it, and
I can’t rest till I trace it. I thought you might possibly have          looking more closely she saw engraved on it the initials B. F.
taken it away by mistake.”                                               “Golly! It’s it,” whispered the awe-struck Diva. “Benjamin
“What, the tiger one?” said Georgie, much interested in                  Flint, before he Mapped himself. But why here? And how?”
spite of the draught round his ankles. “What a disaster. But I           An idea struck her, and she called Paddy, but Paddy had no
haven’t got it. What a series of adventures it’s had! I saw you          doubt gone out with Janet. Forgetting about fresh logs but
bring it into Diva’s; I noticed it particularly.”                        with this relic in her hand, Diva returned to her room, and
“Thank you,” said Elizabeth, and rang off.                               warmed herself with intellectual speculation.
“And now for the police-station,” said Diva, sipping her deli-           Somebody had disposed of all the riding-whip except this
cious sherry. “That’ll be your fourth call.”                             metallic fragment. By process of elimination (for she acquitted
                                                             Chapter III
                                                                        20
Janet of having eaten it), it must be Paddy. Should she ring up          beautiful curtsey and said she was their servant. She made a
Elizabeth and say that the riding-whip had been found? That              touching allusion to her dear friend the Mayoress, whose loyal
would not be true, for all that had been found was a piece of            and loving support would alone render her own immense
overwhelming evidence that it never would be found. Besides,             responsibilities a joy to shoulder, and Elizabeth, wreathed in
who could tell what Elizabeth had said to Benjy by this time?            smiles, dabbed her handkerchief on the exact piece of her face
Possibly (even probably, considering what Elizabeth was) she             where tears, had there been any, would have bedewed it. The
would not tell him that she had retrieved it from the office of          Mayor then entertained a large party to lunch at the King’s
the Argus, and thus escape his just censure for having lost it.          Arms Hotel, preceding them in state while church bells rang,
                                                                         dogs barked, cameras clicked, and the sun gleamed on the
“I believe,” thought Diva, “that it might save developments
                                                                         massive maces borne before her. There were cheers for Lucia
which nobody can foresee, if I said nothing about it to any-
                                                                         led by the late Mayor and cheers for the Mayoress led by her
body. Nobody knows except Paddy and me. Silentio, as Lucia
                                                                         present husband.
says, when she’s gabbling fit to talk your head off. Let them
settle it between themselves, but nobody shall suspect ME of              In the afternoon Lucia inaugurated Diva’s tea-shop, incog-
having had anything to do with it. I’ll bury it in the garden            nita as Mrs. Pillson. The populace of Tilling was not quite so
before Janet comes back. Rather glad Paddy ate it. I was tired           thrilled as she had expected at the prospect of taking its tea
of Major Benjy showing me the whip, and telling me about it              in the same room as the Mayor, and no one saw her drink the
over and over again. Couldn’t be true, either. I’m killing a lie.”       first cup of tea except Georgie and Diva, who kept running
                                                                         to the window on the look-out for customers. Seeing Susan
With the help of a torch and a trowel Diva put the relic
                                                                         in her Royce, she tapped on the pane, and got her to come in
beyond reasonable risk of discovery. This was only just done
                                                                         so that they could inaugurate the card-room with a rubber of
when Janet returned with Paddy.
                                                                         Bridge. Then suddenly a torrent of folk invaded the tea-room
 “Been strolling in the garden,” said Diva with chattering               and Diva had to leave an unfinished hand to help Janet to
teeth. “Such a mild night. Dear Paddy! Such a clever dog.”               serve them.
 Elizabeth pondered over the mystery as she walked briskly               “Wish they’d come sooner,” she said, “to see the ceremony.
home, and when she came to discuss it with Benjy after dinner            Do wait a bit; if they ease off we can finish our game.”
they presently became very friendly. She reminded him that
                                                                         She hurried away. A few minutes afterwards she opened the
he had behaved like a poltroon this morning, and, like a loyal
                                                                         door and said in a thrilling whisper, “Fourteen shilling ones,
wife, she had shielded him from exposure by her ingenious
                                                                         and two eighteen-penny’s.”
explanations. She disclosed that she had retrieved the riding-
whip from the Argus office, but had subsequently lost it at              “Splendid!” said everybody, and Susan began telling them
Diva’s tea-rooms. A great pity, but it still might turn up. What         about her automatic script.
they must fix firmly in their minds was that Benjy had gone               “I sit there with my eyes shut and my pencil in my hand,” she
to the office of the Argus merely to pay a polite call on Mr.            said, “and Blue Birdie on the table by me. I get a sort of lost
McConnell, and that Elizabeth had never seen the monstrous               feeling, and then Blue Birdie seems to say ‘Tweet, tweet’, and
caricature of herself in that paper.                                     I say ‘Good morning, dear’. Then my pencil begins to move. I
 “That’s settled then,” she said, “and it’s far the most digni-          never know what it writes. A queer, scrawling hand, not a bit
fied course we can take. And I’ve been thinking about more               like mine.”
important things than these paltry affairs. There’s an election              The door opened and Diva’s face beamed redly.
to the Town Council next month. One vacancy. I shall stand.”
                                                                          “Still twelve shilling ones,” she said, “though six of the first
 “Not very wise, Liz,” he said. “You tried that once, and came           lot have gone. Two more eighteen-penny, but the cream is get-
in at the bottom of the poll.”                                           ting low, and Janet’s had to add milk.”
 “I know that. Lucia and I polled exactly the same number of              “Where had I got to?” said Susan. “Oh, yes. It goes on writ-
votes. But times have changed now. She’s Mayor and I’m May-              ing till Blue Birdie seems to say ‘Tweet, tweet’ again, and that
oress. It’s of her I’m thinking. I shall be much more assistance         means it’s finished and I say ‘Good-bye, dear’.”
to her as a Councillor. I shall be a support to her at the meet-
ings.”                                                                       “What sort of things does it write?” asked Lucia.
 “Very thoughtful of you,” said Benjy. “Does she see it like             “All sorts. This morning it kept writing mère over and over
that?”                                                                   again.”
 “I’ve not told her yet. I shall be firm in any case. Well, it’s bed-    “That’s very strange,” said Lucia eagerly. “Very. I expect Blue
time; such an exciting day! Dear me, if I didn’t forget to pay           Birdie wants to say something to me.”
Diva for a few telephone calls I made from her house. Dear               “No,” said Susan. “Not your sort of Mayor. The French word
Diva, and her precious economies!”                                       mère, just as if Blue Birdie said ‘Mummie’. Speaking to me
 And in Diva’s back garden, soon to tarnish by contact with              evidently.”
the loamy soil, there lay buried, like an unspent shell with all             This did not seem to interest Lucia.
its explosive potentialities intact, the silver cap of the vanished
relic.                                                                       “And anything of value?” she asked.

Mayoring day arrived and Lucia, formally elected by the                      “It’s all of value,” said Susan.
Town Council, assumed her scarlet robes. She swept them a                    A slight crash sounded from the tea-room.
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                                E. F. Benson
                                                                  21
“Only a tea-cup,” said Diva, looking in again. Rather like             sung with crossed hands by all the company, with the excep-
breaking a bottle of wine when you launch a ship.”                     tion of Georgie, who had no neighbours. Lucia swept regal
                                                                       curtsies to right and left, and a loop of the seed pearls in her
“Would you like me to show myself for a minute?” asked
                                                                       hair got loose and oscillated in front of her face.
Lucia. “I will gladly walk through the room if it would help.”
                                                                        The Mayor and her Prince Consort drove back to Mallards,
 “So good of you, but I don’t want any help except in handling
                                                                       Lucia strung up to the highest pitch of triumph, Georgie
things. Besides, I told the reporter of the Argus that you had
                                                                       intensely fatigued. She put him through a catechism of self-
had your tea, and were playing cards in here.”
                                                                       glorification in the garden-room.
“Oh, not quite wise, Diva,” said Lucia. “Tell him I wasn’t
                                                                       “I think I gave them a good dinner,” she said. “And the wine
playing for money. Think of the example.”
                                                                       was excellent, wasn’t it?”
“Afraid he’s gone,” said Diva. “Besides, it wouldn’t be true.
                                                                       “Admirable,” said Georgie.
Two of your Councillors here just now. Shillings. Didn’t
charge them. Advertisement.”                                           “And my speech. Not too long?”
 The press of customers eased off, and, leaving Janet to deal          “Not a bit. Exactly right.”
with the remainder, Diva joined them, clinking a bag of bul-           “I thought they drank my health very warmly. Non e vero?”
lion.
                                                                       “Very. Molto,” said Georgie.
 “Lots of tips,” she said. “I never reckoned on that. Mostly
twopences, but they’ll add up. I must just count the takings,          Lucia struck a chord on the piano before she closed it.
and then let’s finish the rubber.”                                     “Did I take the Moonlight a little too quick?” she asked.
The takings exceeded all expectation; quite a pile of silver; a        “No. I never heard you play it better.”
pyramid of copper.
                                                                        “I felt the enthusiasm tingling round me,” she said. “In the
“What will you do with all that money now the banks are                days of horse-drawn vehicles, I am sure they would have
closed?” asked Georgie lightly. “Such a sum to have in the             taken my horses out of the shafts and pulled us up home. But
house. I should bury it in the garden.”                                impossible with a motor.”
Diva’s hand gave an involuntary twitch as she swept the cop-           Georgie yawned.
pers into a bag. Odd that he should say that! “Safe enough,”
she replied. “Paddy sleeps in my room, now that I know he              “They might have taken out the carburetter,” he said wearily.
hasn’t got mange.”                                                     She glanced at some papers on her table.
 The Mayoral banquet followed in the evening. Unfortunately,            “I must be up early to-morrow,” she said, “to be ready for
neither the Lord Lieutenant nor the Bishop nor the Member of           Mrs. Simpson.… A new era, Georgie. I seem to see a new era
Parliament were able to attend, but they sent charming letters         for our dear Tilling.”
of regret, which Lucia read before her Chaplain, the Padre,
said Grace. She wore her mayoral chain of office round her
neck, and her chain of inherited seed-pearls in her hair, and
Georgie, as arranged, sat alone on the other side of the table
directly opposite her. He was disadvantageously placed with
regard to supplies of food and drink, for the waiter had to
go round the far end of the side-tables to get at him, but he
took extra large helpings when he got the chance, and had all
his wine-glasses filled. He wore on the lapel of his coat a fine
green and white enamel star, which had long lain among his
bibelots, and which looked like a foreign order. At the far end
of the room was a gallery, from which ladies, as if in purdah,
were allowed to look on. Elizabeth sat in the front row, and
waggled her hand at the Mayor, whenever Lucia looked in
her direction, in order to encourage her. Once, when a waiter
was standing just behind Lucia, Elizabeth felt sure that she
had caught her eye, and kissed her hand to her. The waiter
promptly responded, and the Mayoress, blushing prettily,
ceased to signal.… There were flowery speeches made and
healths drunk, and afterwards a musical entertainment. The
Mayor created a precedent by contributing to this herself and
giving (as the Hampshire Argus recorded in its next issue)
an exquisite rendering on the piano of the slow movement
of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It produced a somewhat
pensive effect, and she went back to her presiding place again
amid respectful applause and a shrill, solitary cry of “Encore!”
from Elizabeth. The spirits of her guests revived under the
spell of lighter melodies, and at the end Auld Lang Syne was
                                                             Chapter III
                                                                     22
Chapter IV                                                            Georgie plodded beside her, wishing Lucia was not so excru-
                                                                      ciatingly didactic, but trying between sneezes to be a good
                                                                      husband to the Mayor.
                                                                          “And mayn’t you reside in an industrial zone?” he asked.
 Lucia did not find her new duties quite as onerous as she
expected, but she made them as onerous as she could. She               “That I must look into. I should myself certainly permit a
pored over plans for new houses which the Corporation was             shoe- maker to live above his shop. Then there’s the general
building, and having once grasped the difference between sec-         business zone. I trust that Diva’s tea-rooms in the High Street
tion and elevation was full of ideas for tasteful weathercocks,       are in order: it would be sad for her if I had to tell her to close
lightning conductors and balconies. With her previous experi-         them … Ah, our comfortable garden-room again! You were
ence in Stock Exchange transactions to help her, she went             asking just now about residence in an industrial zone. I think
deeply into questions of finance and hit on a scheme of bor-          I have some papers here which will tell you that. And there’s a
rowing money at three and a half per cent. for a heavy outlay         coloured map of zones somewhere, green for industrial, blue
for the renewal of drains, and investing it in some thoroughly        for residential and yellow for general business, which would
sound concern that brought in four and a half per cent. She           fascinate you. Where is it now?”
explained this masterpiece to Georgie.                                “Don’t bother about it to-night,” said Georgie. “I can easily
 “Say we borrow ten thousand pounds at three and a half,”             wait till to-morrow. What about some music? There’s that
she said, “the interest on that will be three hundred and fifty       Scarlatti duet.”
pounds a year. We invest it, Georgie,—follow me closely               “Ah, divino Scarlattino!” said Lucia absently, as she turned
here—at four and a half, and it brings us in four hundred and         over her papers. “Eureka! Here it is! No, that’s about slums,
fifty pounds a year. A clear gain of one hundred pounds.”             but also very interesting … What’s a ‘messuage’?”
 “That does seem brilliant,” said Georgie. “But wait a moment.            “Probably a misprint for message,” said he. “Or massage.”
If you re-invest what you borrow, how do you pay for the
                                                                          “No, neither makes sense: I must put a query to that.”
work on your drains?”
                                                                      Georgie sat down at the piano, and played a few fragments
Lucia’s face grew corrugated with thought.
                                                                      of remembered tunes. Lucia continued reading: it was rather
 “I see what you’re driving at, Georgie,” she said slowly. “Very      difficult to understand, and the noise distracted her.
acute of you. I must consider that further before I bring my
                                                                       “Delicious tunes,” she said, “but would it be very selfish of
scheme before the Finance Committee. But in my belief—of
                                                                      me, dear, to ask you to stop while I’m tackling this? So impor-
course this is strictly private—the work on the drains is not
                                                                      tant that I should have it at my fingers’ ends before the next
so very urgent. We might put it off for six months, and in the
                                                                      meeting, and be able to explain it. Ah, I see … no, that’s green.
meantime reap our larger dividends. I’m sure there’s some-
                                                                      Industrial. But in half an hour or so—”
thing to be done on those lines.”
                                                                          Georgie closed the piano.
 Then with a view to investigating the lighting of the streets,
she took Georgie out for walks after dinner on dark and even              “I think I shall go to bed,” he said. “I may have caught cold.”
rainy evenings.                                                        “Ah, now I see,” cried Lucia triumphantly. “You can reside in
 “This corner now,” she said as the rain poured down on her           any zone. That is only fair: why should a chemist in the High
umbrella. “A most insufficient illumination. I should never           Street be forced to live half a mile away? And very clearly put.
forgive myself if some elderly person tripped up here in the          I could not have expressed it better myself. Good-night, dear.
dark and stunned himself. He might remain undiscovered for            A few drops of camphor on a lump of sugar. Sleep well.”
hours.”                                                               The Mayoress was as zealous as the Mayor. She rang Lucia up
“Quite,” said Georgie, “But this is very cold-catching. Let’s         at breakfast time every morning, and wished to speak to her
get home. No elderly person will come out on such a night.            personally.
Madness.”                                                             “Anything I can do for you, dear Worship?” she asked. “Al-
 “It is a little wet,” said Lucia, who never caught cold. “I’ll go    ways at your service, as I needn’t remind you.”
to look at that alley by Bumpus’s buildings another night, for        “Nothing whatever, thanks,” answered Lucia. “I’ve a Council
there’s a memorandum on Town Development plans waiting                meeting this afternoon—”
for me, which I haven’t mastered. Something about residential
zones and industrial zones, Georgie. I mustn’t permit a manu-             “No points you’d like to talk over with me? Sure?”
factory to be opened in a residential zone: for instance, I could         “Quite,” said Lucia firmly.
never set up a brewery or a blacksmith’s forge in the garden at
                                                                       “There are one or two bits of things I should like to bring to
Mallards—”
                                                                      your notice,” said the baffled Elizabeth, “for of course you
“Well, you don’t want to, do you?” said Georgie.                      can’t keep in touch with everything. I’ll pop in at one for a
 “The principle, dear, is the interesting thing. At first sight it    few minutes and chance finding you disengaged. And a bit of
looks rather like a curtailment of the liberty of the individual,     news.”
but if you look, as I am learning to do, below the surface, you           Lucia went back to her congealed bacon.
will perceive that a blacksmith’s forge in the middle of the
                                                                      “She’s got quite a wrong notion of the duties of a Mayoress,
lawn would detract from the tranquillity of adjoining resi-
                                                                      Georgie,” she said. “I wish she would understand that if I
dences. It would injure their amenities.”
 Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                       E. F. Benson
                                                                    23
want her help I shall ask for it. She has nothing to do with my          Your unique position as Mayoress would suffer. Tilling would
official duties, and as she’s not on the Town Council, she can’t         think of you as one of a body. You, my right hand, would lose
dip her oar very deep.”                                                  your independence. And then, unlikely, even impossible as
                                                                         it sounds, supposing you were not elected? A ruinous loss of
“She’s hoping to run you,” said Georgie. “She hopes to have
                                                                         prestige—”
her finger in every pie. She will if she can.”
                                                                         Foljambe entered.
“I have got to be very tactful,” said Lucia thoughtfully. “You
see the only object of my making her Mayoress was to dope                “Lunch,” she said, and left the door of the garden-room wide
her malignant propensities, and if I deal with her too rigor-            open.
ously I should merely stimulate them … Ah, we must begin                 Elizabeth sprang up with a shrill cry of astonishment.
our régime of plain living. Let us go and do our marketing
at once, and then I can study the agenda for this afternoon              “No idea it was lunch-time,” she cried. “How naughty of
before Elizabeth arrives.”                                               me not to have kept my eye on the clock, but time passed so
                                                                         quickly, as it always does, dear, when I’m talking to you. But
 Elizabeth had some assorted jobs for Worship to attend to.              you haven’t convinced me; far from it. I must fly; Benjy will
Worship ought to know that a car had come roaring down the               call me a naughty girl for being so late.”
hill into Tilling yesterday at so terrific a pace that she hadn’t
time to see the number. A van and Susan’s Royce had caused                Lucia remembered that the era of plain living had begun.
a complete stoppage of traffic in the High Street; anyone with           Hashed mutton and treacle pudding. Perhaps Elizabeth might
only a few minutes to spare to catch a train must have missed            go away if she knew that. On the other hand, Elizabeth had
it. “And far worse was a dog that howled all last night out-             certainly come here at one o’clock in order to be asked to
side the house next Grebe,” said Elizabeth. “Couldn’t sleep a            lunch, and it would be wiser to ask her.
wink.”                                                                   “Ring him up and say you’re lunching here,” she decided.
“But I can’t stop it,” said Lucia.                                       “Do.”
“No? I should have thought some threatening notice might                 Elizabeth recollected that she had ordered hashed beef and
be served on the owner. Or shall I write a letter to the Argus,          marmalade pudding at home.
which we both might sign. More weight. Or I would write a                “I consider that a command, dear Worship,” she said. “May I
personal note to you which you might read to the Council.                use your telephone?”
Whichever you like, Worship. You to choose.”
                                                                         All these afflictions strongly reacted on Georgie. Mutton and
Lucia did not find any of these alternatives attractive, but             Mapp and incessant conversation about municipal affairs
made a business-like note of them all.                                   were making home far less comfortable than he had a right to
“Most valuable suggestions,” she said. “But I don’t feel that I          expect. Then Lucia sprang another conscientious surprise on
could move officially about the dog. It might be a cat next, or          him, when she returned that afternoon positively invigorated
a canary.”                                                               by a long Council meeting.
 Elizabeth was gazing out of the window with that kind,                   “I want to consult you, Georgie,” she said. “Ever since the
meditative smile which so often betokened some atrocious                 Hampshire Argus reported that I played Bridge in Diva’s
train of thought.                                                        card-room, the whole question has been on my mind. I don’t
                                                                         think I ought to play for money.”
 “Just little efforts of mine, dear Worship, to enlarge your
sphere of influence,” she said. “Soon, perhaps, I may be able            “You can’t call threepence a hundred money,” said Georgie.
to support you more directly.”                                            “It is not a large sum, but emphatically it IS money. It’s the
Lucia felt a qualm of sickening apprehension.                            principle of the thing. A very sad case—all this is very pri-
                                                                         vate— has just come to my notice. Young Twistevant, the
“That would be lovely,” she said. “But how, dear Elizabeth,              grocer’s son, has been backing horses, and is in debt with his
could you do more than you are doing?”                                   last quarter’s rent unpaid. Lately married and a baby coming.
Elizabeth focused her kind smile on dear Worship’s face. A               All the result of gambling.”
close up.                                                                “I don’t see how the baby is the result of gambling,” said
“Guess, dear!” she said.                                                 Georgie. “Unless he bet he wouldn’t have one.”
“Couldn’t,” said Lucia.                                                  Lucia gave the wintry smile that was reserved for jokes she
                                                                         didn’t care about.
“Well, then, there’s a vacancy in the Borough Council, and I’m
standing for it. Oh, if I got in! At hand to support you in all           “I expressed myself badly,” she said. “I only meant that his
your Council meetings. You and me! Just think!”                          want of money, when he will need it more than ever, is the
                                                                         result of gambling. The principle is the same whether it’s
Lucia made one desperate attempt to avert this appalling
                                                                         threepence or a starving baby. And Bridge surely, with its call
prospect, and began to gabble.
                                                                         both on prudence and enterprise, is a sufficiently good game
 “That would be wonderful,” she said, “and how well I know               to play for love: for love of Bridge. Let us set an example.
that it’s your devotion to me that prompts you. How I value              When we have our next Bridge party, let it be understood that
that! But somehow it seems to me that your influence, your               there are no stakes.”
tremendous influence, would be lessened rather than the
                                                                         “I don’t think you’ll get many Bridge parties if that’s under-
reverse, if you became just one out of my twelve Councillors.
                                                               Chapter IV
                                                                     24
stood,” said Georgie. “Everyone will go seven no trumps at            “I got hashed mutton and treacle pudding for lunch a few
once.”                                                                days ago,” she said. “Just what I should have had at home
                                                                      except that it was beef and marmalade.”
“Then they’ll be doubled,” cried Lucia triumphantly.
                                                                      “Perhaps you happened to look in a few minutes before unex-
 “And redoubled. It wouldn’t be any fun. Most monotonous.
                                                                      pectedly,” suggested Diva who was handing crumpets.
The dealer might as well pick up his hand and say Seven no-
trumps, doubled and redoubled, before he looked at it.”                   There was a nasty sort of innuendo about this.
 “I hope we take a more intelligent interest in the game than         “I haven’t got any cream, dear,” retorted Elizabeth. “Would
THAT,” said Lucia. “The judgment in declaring, the skill in           you kindly—”
the play of the cards, the various systems so carefully thought       “It’ll be an eighteen-penny tea then,” Diva warned her,
out—surely we shan’t cease to practise them just because a            “though you’ll get potted meat sandwiches as well. Shall it be
few pence are no longer at stake? Indeed, I think we shall            eighteen- pence?”
have far pleasanter games. They will be more tranquil, and
on a loftier level. The question of even a few pence sometimes            Elizabeth ignored the suggestion.
produces acrimony.”                                                    “As for playing bridge for nothing,” she resumed, “I won’t.
 “I can’t agree,” said Georgie. “Those acrimonies are the result      I’ve never played it before, and I’m too old to learn now. Dear
of pleasant excitement. And what’s the use of keeping the             Worship, of course, may do as she likes, so long as she doesn’t
score, and wondering if you dare finesse, if it leads to noth-        do it with me.”
ing? You might try playing for twopence a hundred instead of           Diva finished her serving and sat down with her customers.
threepence—”                                                          Janet brought her cream and potted-meat sandwiches, for of
 “I must repeat that it’s the principle,” interrupted Lucia. “I       course she could eat what she liked, without choosing be-
feel that in my position it ought to be known that though I           tween a shilling and an eighteen-penny tea.
play cards, which I regard as quite a reasonable relaxation, I        “Makes it all so awkward,” she said. “If one of us gives a
no longer play for money. I feel sure we should find it just as       Bridge- party, must the table at which Lucia plays do it for
exciting. Let us put it to the test. I will ask the Padre and Evie    nothing?”
to dine and play to-morrow, and we’ll see how it goes.”
                                                                       “The other table, too, I expect,” said Elizabeth bitterly, watch-
 It didn’t go. Lucia made the depressing announcement during          ing Diva pouring quantities of cream into her tea. “Worship
dinner, and a gloom fell on the party as they cut for partners.       mightn’t like to know that gambling was going on in her pres-
For brief bright moments one or other of them forgot that             ence.”
there was nothing to be gained by astuteness except the con-
sciousness of having been clever, but then he (or she) remem-         “That I won’t submit to,” cried Evie. “I won’t, I won’t. She
bered, and the gleam faded. Only Lucia remained keen and              may be Mayor but she isn’t Mussolini.”
critical. She tried with agonised anxiety to recollect if there        “I see nought for it,” said the Padre, “but not to ask her. I play
was another trump in and decided wrong.                               my Bridge for diversion and it doesna’ divert me to exert my
 “Too stupid of me, Padre,” she said. “I ought to have known.         mind over the cards and not a bawbee or the loss if it to show
I should have drawn it, and then we made our contract. Quite          for all my trouble.”
inexcusable. Many apologies.”                                          Other customers came in; the room filled up and Diva had
“Eh, it’s no matter; it’s no matter whatever,” he said. “Just         to get busy again. The office boy from the Hampshire Argus
nothing at all.”                                                      and a friend had a good blow-out, and ate an entire pot of
                                                                      jam, which left little profit on their teas. On the other hand,
 Then came the adding-up. Georgie had not kept the score and          Evie and the Padre and Elizabeth were so concerned about
everyone accepted Lucia’s addition without a murmur. At half          the Bridge crisis that they hardly ate anything. Diva presented
past ten instead of eleven, it was agreed that it was wiser not       them with their bills, and they each gave her a tip of two-
to begin another rubber, and Georgie saw the languid guests           pence, which was quite decent for a shilling tea, but the office
to the door. He came back to find Lucia replaying the last            boy and his friend, in the bliss of repletion, gave her three-
hand.                                                                 pence. Diva thanked them warmly.
 “You could have got another trick, dear,” she said. “Look; you           Evie and the Padre continued the subject on the way home.
should have discarded instead of trumping. A most interest-
ing manoeuvre. As to our test, I think they were both quite            “Such hard luck on Mr. Georgie,” she said. “He’s as bored
as keen as ever, and for myself I never had a more enjoyable          as anybody with playing for love. I saw him yawn six times
game.”                                                                the other night and he never added up. I think I’ll ask him to
                                                                      a Bridge-tea at Diva’s, just to see if he’ll come without Lucia.
The news of this depressing evening spread apace through              Diva would be glad to play with us afterwards, but it would
Tilling, and a small party assembled next day at Diva’s for           never do to ask her to tea first.”
shilling teas and discussions.
                                                                          “How’s that?” asked the Padre.
 “I winna play for nowt,” said the Padre. “Such a mirthless
evening I never spent. And by no means a well-furnished                “Why she would be making a profit by being our guest. And
table at dinner. An unusual parsimony.”                               how could we tip her for four teas, when she had had one of
                                                                      them herself? Very awkward for her.”
Elizabeth chimed in.
                                                                          “A’weel, then let her get her own tea,” said the Padre,
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                             E. F. Benson
                                                                      25
“though I don’t think she’s as delicate of feeling as all that. But        want it to be widely known that I do not play cards for money.
ask the puir laddie by all means.”                                         You diminish the force of my example, dear, if you continue to
                                                                           do so. The lime- light is partially, at any rate, on you as well as
 Georgie was duly rung up and a slightly embarrassing mo-
                                                                           me. I ask you not to.”
ment followed. Evie thought she had said with sufficient
emphasis “So pleased if YOU will come to Diva’s tomorrow                   “I’m afraid I can’t consent,” said Georgie. “I don’t see any
for tea and Bridge,” but he asked her to hold on while he saw              harm in it—Naturally you will do as you like—”
if Lucia was free. Then Evie had to explain it didn’t matter               “Thank you, dear,” said Lucia.
whether Lucia was free or not, and Georgie accepted.
                                                                           “No need to thank me. And I shall do as I like.”
“I felt sure it would happen,” he said to himself, “but I think I
shan’t tell Lucia. Very likely she’ll be busy.”                            Grosvenor entered.
 Vain was the hope of man. As they were moderately enjoy-                  “Silentio!” whispered Lucia. “Yes, Grosvenor?”
ing their frugal lunch next day, Lucia congratulated herself on            “Mrs. Mapp-Flint has rung up”—began Grosvenor.
having a free afternoon.
                                                                           “Tell her I can’t attend to any business this evening,” said
 “Positively nothing to do,” she said. “Not a committee to                 Lucia.
attend, nothing. Let us have one of our good walks, and pop
in to have tea with Diva afterwards. I want to encourage her                “She doesn’t want you to, ma’am. She only wants to know
enterprise.”                                                               if Mr. Pillson will dine with her the day after tomorrow and
                                                                           play Bridge.”
 “A walk would be lovely,” said Georgie, “but Evie asked me
to have tea at Diva’s and play a rubber afterwards.”                       “Thank her,” said Georgie firmly. “Delighted.”

“I don’t remember her asking me,” said Lucia. “Does she                     Card-playing circles in Tilling remained firm: there was no
expect me?”                                                                slump. If, in view of her exemplary position, Worship de-
                                                                           clined to play Bridge for money, far be it from us, said Till-
“I rather think Diva’s making our fourth,” faltered Georgie.               ing, to seek to persuade her against the light of conscience.
Lucia expressed strong approval.                                           But if Worship imagined that Tilling intended to follow her
                                                                           example, the sooner she got rid of that fond illusion the better.
“A very sensible innovation,” she said. “I remember telling                Lucia sent out invitations for another Bridge party at Mallards
you that it struck me as rather bourgeois, rather Victorian,               but everybody was engaged. She could not miss the signifi-
always to have husbands and wives together. No doubt also,                 cance of that, but she put up a proud front and sent for the
dear Evie felt sure I should be busy up till dinner-time. Really           latest book on Bridge and studied it incessantly, almost to the
very considerate of her, not to give me the pain of refusing.              neglect of her Mayoral Duties, in order to prove that what she
How I shall enjoy a quiet hour with a book.”                               cared for was the game in itself. Her grasp of it, she declared,
 “She doesn’t like it at all the same,” thought Georgie, as,               improved out of all knowledge, but she got no opportunities
rather fatigued with a six mile tramp in a thick sea mist, he              of demonstrating that agreeable fact. Invitations rained on
tripped down the hill to Diva’s, “and I shouldn’t wonder if she            Georgie, for it was clearly unfair that he should get no Bridge
guessed the reason …” The tea-room was crowded, so that                    because nobody would play with the Mayor, and he returned
Diva could not have had tea with them even if she had been                 these hospitalities by asking his friends to have tea with him
asked. She presented the bill to Evie herself (three eighteen-             at Diva’s rooms, with a rubber afterwards, for he could not
penny teas) and received the generous tip of fourpence a                   ask three gamblers to dinner and leave Lucia to study Bridge
head.                                                                      problems by herself, while the rest of the party played. Other
                                                                           entertainers followed his example, for it was far less trouble
“Thank you, dear Evie,” she said pocketing the extra shilling.
                                                                           to order tea at Diva’s and find the card-room ready, and as
“I do call that handsome. I’ll join you in the card-room as soon
                                                                           Algernon Wyse expressed it, ‘ye olde tea-house’ became quite
as ever I can.”
                                                                           like Almack’s. This was good business for the establishment,
 They had most exciting games at the usual stakes. It was                  and Diva bitterly regretted that it had not occurred to her
impossible to leave the last rubber unfinished, and Georgie                from the first to charge card-money. She put the question one
had to hurry over his dressing not to keep Lucia waiting. Her              day to Elizabeth.
eye had that gimlet-like aspect, which betokened a thirst for
                                                                           “All those markers being used up so fast,” she said, “and I
knowledge.
                                                                           shall have to get new cards so much oftener than I expected.
“A good tea and a pleasant rubber?” she asked.                             Twopence, say, for card-money, don’t you think?”
“Both,” said Georgie. “I enjoyed myself.”                                  “I shouldn’t dream of it, dear,” said Elizabeth very decidedly.
“So glad. And many people having tea?”                                     “You must be doing very well as it is. But I should recom-
                                                                           mend some fresh packs of cards. A little greasy, when last I
“Crammed. Diva couldn’t join us till close on six.”                        played. More daintiness, clean cards, sharp pencils and so on
 “How pleasant for Diva. And did you play for stakes, dear, or             are well worth while. But card-money, no!”
for nothing?”                                                              The approach of the election to the vacancy on the Town
“Stakes,” said Georgie. “The usual threepence.”                            Council diverted the Mayor’s mind from her abstract study of
                                                                           Bridge. Up to within a few days of the date on which candi-
“Georgie, I’m going to ask a favour of you,” she said. “I want
                                                                           dates’ names must be sent in, Elizabeth was still the only aspi-
you to set an example—poor young Twistervant, you know—I
                                                              Chapter IV
                                                                   26
rant. Lucia found herself faced by the prospect of her Mayor-       the Spartan commissariat—indeed, she disliked it very much
ess being inevitably elected, and the thought of that filled her    herself and occasionally wondered if her example was being
with the gloomiest apprehensions. She wondered if Georgie           either followed or respected—and she gave him Lucullan
could be induced to stand. It was his morning for cleaning his      lunches and dinners. Elizabeth, of course, at once got wind of
bibelots, and she went up to his room with offers of help.          his candidature and canvassing, but instead of withdrawing,
                                                                    she started a hurricane campaign of her own. Her ticket was
“I so often wish, dear,” she said pensively, attacking a snuff-
                                                                    the reduction of rates, instead of this rise in them which these
box, “that you were more closely connected with me in my
                                                                    idiotic schemes for useless luxuries would inevitably produce.
municipal work. And such an opportunity offers itself just
now.”                                                                The result of the election was to be announced by the Mayor
                                                                    from the steps of the Town Hall. Owing to the howling gale,
“Do be careful with that snuff-box,” said he. “Don’t rub it
                                                                    and the torrents of rain the street outside was absolutely emp-
hard. What’s this opportunity?”
                                                                    ty save for the figure of Major Benjy clad in a sou’wester hat, a
“The Town Council. There’s a vacancy very soon. I’m con-            mackintosh and waders, crouching in the most sheltered cor-
vinced, dear, that with a little training, such as I could give     ner he could find beneath a dripping umbrella. Elizabeth had
you, you would make a marvellous Councillor, and you                had hard work to induce him to come at all: he professed him-
would find the work most absorbing.”                                self perfectly content to curb his suspense in comfort at home
“I think it would bore me stiff,” he said. “I’m no good at          by the fire till she returned with the news, and all the other
slums and drains.”                                                  inhabitants of Tilling felt they could wait till next morning …
                                                                    Then Lucia emerged from the Town Hall with a candidate on
Lucia decided to disclose herself.                                  each side of her, and in a piercing scream, to make her voice
 “Georgie, it’s to help me,” she said. “Elizabeth at present is     heard in this din of the elements, she announced the appall-
the only candidate, and the idea of having her on the Council       ing figures. Mrs. Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, she yelled, had polled
is intolerable. And with the prestige of your being my hus-         eight hundred and five votes, and was therefore elected.
band I don’t doubt the result. Just a few days of canvassing;        Major Benjy uttered a hoarse “Hurrah!” and trying to clap his
you with your keen interest in human nature will revel in it. It    hands let go of his umbrella which soared into the gale and
is a duty, it seems to me, that you owe to yourself. You would      was seen no more.… Mr. George Pillson, screamed Lucia, had
have an official position in the town. I have long felt it an       polled four hundred and twenty-one votes. Elizabeth, at the
anomaly that the Mayor’s husband had none.”                         top of her voice, then warmly thanked the burgesses of Tilling
Georgie considered. He had before now thought it would be           for the confidence which they had placed in her, and which
pleasant to walk in Mayoral processions in a purple gown.           she would do her best to deserve. She shook hands with
And bored though he was with Lucia’s municipal gabble, it           the Mayor and the defeated candidate, and instantly drove
would be different when, with the weight of his position to         away with her husband. As there were no other burgesses
back him, he could say that he totally disagreed with her on        to address Georgie did not deliver the speech which he had
some matter of policy, and perhaps defeat some project of hers      prepared: indeed it would have been quite unsuitable, since
at a Council Meeting. Also, it would be a pleasure to defeat        he had intended to thank the burgesses of Tilling in similar
Elizabeth at the poll …                                             terms. He and Lucia scurried to their car, and Georgie put up
                                                                    the window.
“Well, if you’ll help me with the canvassing—” he began.
                                                                        “Most mortifying,” he said.
 “Ah, if I only could!” she said. “But, dear, my position pre-
cludes me from taking any active part. It is analogous to that       “My dear, you did your best,” said Lucia, pressing his arm
of the King, who, officially, is outside politics. The fact that    with a wet but sympathetic hand. “In public life, one has to
you are my husband—what a blessed day was that when our             take these little reverses—”
lives were joined— will carry immense weight. Everyone will          “Most humiliating,” interrupted Georgie. “All that trouble
know that your candidature has my full approval. I shouldn’t        thrown away. Being triumphed over by Elizabeth when you
wonder if Elizabeth withdrew when she learns you are stand-         led me to expect quite the opposite. She’ll be far more swanky
ing against her.”                                                   now than if I hadn’t put up.”
“Oh, very well,” said he. “But you must coach me on what             “No, Georgie, there I can’t agree,” said Lucia. “If there had
my programme is to be.”                                             been no other candidate, she would have said that nobody
“Thank you, dear, a thousand times! You must send in your           felt he had the slightest chance against her. That would have
name at once. Mrs. Simpson will get you a form to fill up.”         been much worse. Anyhow she knows now that four hundred
                                                                    and—what was the figure?”
 Several horrid days ensued and Georgie wended his drip-
ping way from house to house in the most atrocious weather.             “Four hundred and twenty-one,” said Georgie.
His ticket was better housing for the poorer classes, and he         “Yes, four hundred and twenty-one thoughtful voters in Till-
called at rows of depressing dwellings, promising to devote         ing—”
his best energies to procuring the tenants bath-rooms, plumb-
ing, bicycle-sheds and open spaces for their children to play        “—against eight hundred and five thoughtless ones,” said
in. A disagreeable sense oppressed him that the mothers,            Georgie. “Don’t let’s talk any more about it. It’s a loss of pres-
whose household jobs he was interrupting, were much bored           tige for both of us. No getting out of it.”
with his visits, and took very little interest in his protesta-     Lucia hurried indoors to tell Grosvenor to bring up a bottle
tions. In reward for these distasteful exertions Lucia relaxed      of champagne for dinner, and to put on to the fire the pretty
 Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                      E. F. Benson
                                                                    27
wreath of laurel leaves which she had privily stitched together          This was no brawl for an M.B.E. to be mixed up in, and Susan
for the coronation of her new Town Councillor.                           called “Home!” to her chauffeur, and shut the window. Even
                                                                         Diva thought she had better move on.
“What’s that nasty smell of burning evergreen?” asked Geor-
gie morosely, as they went into the dining-room.                         “Bye-bye,” she said. “Must get back to my baking.”
 In the opinion of friends the loss of prestige had been entirely        Elizabeth turned on her with a frightful grin.
Lucia’s. Georgie would never have stood for the Council un-              “Very wise,” she said. “If you had got back earlier to your
less she had urged him, and it was a nasty defeat which, it              baking yesterday, we should have enjoyed your jam-puffs
was hoped, might do the Mayor good. But the Mayoress’s vic-              more.”
tory, it was feared, would have the worst effect on her charac-
ter. She and Diva met next morning in the pouring rain to do             “That’s too much!” cried Diva. “You ate three.”
their shopping.                                                          “And bitterly repented it,” said Elizabeth.
“Very disagreeable for poor Worship,” said Elizabeth, “and                Irene hooted with laughter and went on down the street. Diva
not very friendly to me to put up another candidate—”                    crossed it, and Elizabeth stayed where she was for a moment
“Rubbish,” said Diva. “She’s made you Mayoress. Quite                    to recover her poise. Why did Irene always cause her to feel
enough friendliness for one year, I should have thought.”                like a rabbit with a stoat in pursuit? She bewildered and dis-
                                                                         integrated her; she drained her of all power of invective and
“And it was out of friendliness that I accepted. I wanted to be          retort. She could face Diva, and had just done so with signal
of use to her, and stood for the Council for the same reason—”           success, but she was no good against Irene. She plodded home
“Only she thought Mr. Georgie would be of more use than                  through the driving rain, menaced by the thought of that
you,” interrupted Diva.                                                  snap-shot being revived again in fresco.
“Somebody in her pocket—Take care, Diva. Susan’s van.”
 The Royce drew up close to them, and Susan’s face loomed in
the window.
“Good morning, Elizabeth,” she said. “I’ve just heard—”
“Thanks, dear, for your congratulations,” said Elizabeth. “But
quite a walk-over.”
Susan’s face shewed no sign of comprehension.
“What did you walk over?” she asked. “In this rain, too?—
Oh, the election to the Town Council. How nice for you! When
are you going to reduce the rates?”
A shrill whistle, and Irene’s huge red umbrella joined the
group.
“Hullo, Mapp!” she said. “So you’ve got on the map again.
Ha, ha! How dare you stand against Georgie when my Angel
wanted him to get in?”
Irene’s awful tongue always deflated Elizabeth.
“Dear quaint one!” she said. “What a lovely umbrella.”
“I know that. But how dare you?”
Elizabeth was stung into sarcasm.
 “Well, we don’t all of us think that your Angel must always
have her way, dear,” she replied, “and that we must lie down
flat for her to trample us into the mire.”
 “But she raised you out of the mire, woman,” cried Irene,
“when she made you Mayoress. She took pity on your fruit-
less efforts to become somebody. Wait till you see my fresco.”
Elizabeth was sorry she had been so courageous!
 “Painting a pretty fresco, dear?” she asked. “How I shall look
forward to seeing it!”
 “It may be a disappointment to you,” said Irene. “Do you re-
member posing for me on the day Lucia made you Mayoress?
It came out in the Hampshire Argus. Well, it’s going to come
out again in my fresco. Standing on an oyster shell with Benjy
blowing you along. Wait and see.”

                                                             Chapter IV
                                                                   28
Chapter V                                                           voice. “I would willingly never see a card again if that was
                                                                    all, and indeed the abstract study of the game interests me
                                                                    far more. But I did find a certain value in our little Bridge-
                                                                    parties quite apart from cards. Very suggestive discussions,


N
          obody was more conscious of this loss of prestige         sometimes about local affairs, and now more than ever it is so
          than Lucia herself, and there were losses in other        important for me to be in touch with the social as well as the
          directions as well. She had hoped that her renuncia-      municipal atmosphere of the place. I regret that others have
tion of gambling would have induced card- playing circles to        not followed my example, for I am sure our games would
follow her example. That hope was frustrated; bridge-parties        have been as thrilling as ever, but if others won’t come into
with the usual stakes were as numerous as ever, but she was         line with me, I will gladly step back into the ranks again. No-
not asked to them. Another worry was that the humiliating           body shall be able to say of me that I caused splits and dissen-
election rankled in Georgie’s mind and her seeking his advice       sions. ‘One and all’, as you know, is my favourite motto.”
on municipal questions, which was intended to show him                  Georgie didn’t know anything of the sort, but he let it pass.
how much she relied on his judgment, left him unflattered.
                                                                        “Capital!” he said. “Everybody will be very glad.”
When they sat after dinner in the garden-room (where, alas,
no eager gamblers now found the hours pass only too quick-           “And it would give me great pleasure to reconcile that child-
ly) her lucid exposition of some administrative point failed to     ish quarrel between Diva and Elizabeth,” continued Lucia.
rouse any real enthusiasm in him.                                   “I’ll ask Elizabeth and Benjy to have tea with us there to-
                                                                    morrow; dear Diva will not refuse to serve a guest of MINE,
 “And if everything isn’t quite clear,” she said, “mind you         and their little disagreement will be smoothed over. A rubber
interrupt me, and I’ll go over it again.”                           afterwards.”
But no interruption ever came; occasionally she thought she             Georgie looked doubtful.
observed that slight elongation of the face that betokens a sup-
pressed yawn, and at the end, as likely as not, he made some        “Perhaps you had better tell them that you will play for the
comment which shewed he had not listened to a word she              usual stakes,” he said. “Else they might say they were en-
was saying. To-night, she was not sorry he asked no questions       gaged again.”
about the contentious conduct of the catchment board, as she         Lucia, with her vivid imagination, visualised the horrid
was not very clear about it herself. She became less municipal.     superior grin which, at the other end of the telephone, would
                                                                    spread over Elizabeth’s face, when she heard that, and felt
 “How these subjects get between one and the lighter side of
                                                                    that she would scarcely be able to get the words out. But she
life!” she said. “Any news to-day?”
                                                                    steeled herself and went to the telephone.
“Only that turn-up between Diva and Elizabeth,” he said.
                                                                     Elizabeth and Benjy accepted, and, after a reconciliatory
“Georgie, you never told me! What about?”                           eighteen- penny tea, at which Elizabeth ate jam puffs with
“I began to tell you at dinner,” said Georgie, “only you            gusto (“Dear Diva, what delicious, light pastry,” she said. “I
changed the subject to the water-rate. It started with jam-         wonder it doesn’t fly away”) the four retired into the card-
puffs. Elizabeth ate three one afternoon at Diva’s, and said        room. As if to welcome Lucia back into gambling circles, the
next morning that she bitterly repented it. Diva says she’ll        God of Chance provided most exciting games. There were
never serve her a tea again, until she apologizes, but I don’t      slams declared and won, there was doubling and redoubling
suppose she means it.”                                              and rewards and vengeances. Suddenly Diva looked in with a
                                                                    teapot in her hand and a most anxious expression on her face.
“Tell me more!” said Lucia, feeling the old familiar glamour        She closed the door.
stealing over her. “And how is her tea-shop getting on?”
                                                                    “The Inspector of Police wants to see you, Lucia,” she whis-
“Flourishing. The most popular house in Tilling. All so pleas-      pered.
ant and chatty, and a rubber after tea on most days. Quite a
                                                                     Lucia rose, white to the lips. In a flash there came back to
centre.”
                                                                    her all her misgivings about the legality of Diva’s permitting
Lucia wrestled with herself for an intense moment.                  gambling in a public room, and now the police were raiding
“There’s a point on which I much want your advice,” she             it. She pictured headlines in the Hampshire Argus and lurid
began.                                                              paragraphs.… Raid on Mrs. Godiva Plaistow’s gaming rooms
                                                                    … The list of the gamblers caught there. The Mayor and May-
“Do you know, I don’t think I can hope to understand any            oress of Tilling … A retired Major. The Mayor’s husband. The
more municipal affairs to-night,” said Georgie firmly.              case brought before the Tilling magistrates with the Mayor in
 “It’s not that sort, dear,” she said, wondering how to express     the dock instead of on the Bench. Exemplary fines. Her own
herself in a lofty manner. “It is this: You know how I refused      resignation. Eternal infamy.…
to play Bridge any more for money. I’ve been thinking deeply            “Did he ask for me personally?” said Lucia.
over that decision. Deeply. It was meant to set an example, but
                                                                     “Yes. Knew that you were here,” wailed Diva. “And my
if nobody follows an example, Georgie, one has to consider
                                                                    tea-shop will be closed. Oh, dear me, if I’d only heeded your
the wisdom of continuing to set it.”
                                                                    warning about raids! Or if we’d only joined you in playing
“I always thought you’d soon find it very tar’some not to get       Bridge for nothing!”
your Bridge,” said Georgie. “You used to enjoy it so.”               Lucia rose to the topmost peak of magnanimity, and refrained
“Ah, it’s not THAT,” said Lucia, speaking in her best Oxford        from rubbing that in.
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                     E. F. Benson
                                                                  29
 “Is there a back way out, Diva?” she asked. “Then they could           “A very recreative two hours,” she said to Georgie as they
all go. I shall remain and receive my Inspector here. Just sit-        went up the hill homewards, “though I still maintain that our
ting here. Quietly.”                                                   game would have been just as exciting without playing for
“But there’s no back way out,” said Diva. “And you can’t get           money. And that farcical interlude of my Inspector! Georgie,
out of the window. Too small.”                                         I don’t mind confessing that just for one brief moment it DID
                                                                       occur to me that he was raiding the premises—”
“Hide the cards!” commanded Lucia, and they all snatched
up their hands. Georgie put his in his breast-pocket. Benjy put         “Oh, I know that,” said Georgie. “Why, you asked Diva if
his on the top of the large cupboard. Elizabeth sat on hers.           there wasn’t a back way out, and told us to hide our cards
Lucia thrust hers up the sleeve of her jacket.                         and talk. I was the only one of us who knew how absurd it all
                                                                       was.”
“Ask him to come in,” she said. “Now all talk!”
                                                                       “But how you bundled your cards into your pocket! We were
The door opened, and the Inspector stood majestically there
                                                                       all a little alarmed. All. I put it down to Diva’s terror-stricken
with a blue paper in his hand.
                                                                       entrance with her teapot dribbling at the spout—”
 “Indeed, as you say, Major Mapp-Flint,” said Lucia in an un-
                                                                       “No! I didn’t see that,” said Georgie.
wavering Oxford voice, “the League of Nations has collapsed
like a card- house—I should say a ruin—Yes, Inspector, did              “Quite a pool on the ground. And her lamentable outcry
you want me?”                                                          about her tea-rooms being closed. It was suggestion, dear.
 “Yes, your Worship. I called at Mallards, and was told I              Very sensitive people like myself respond automatically to
should catch you here. There’s a summons that needs your               suggestion … And most interesting about Susan and her au-
signature. I hope your Worship will excuse my coming, but              tomatic script. She thinks, Elizabeth tells me, that Blue Birdie
it’s urgent.”                                                          controls her when she’s in trance, and is entirely wrapped up
                                                                       in it.”
 “Quite right, Inspector,” said Lucia. “I am always ready to be
interrupted on magisterial business. I see. On the dotted line.        “She’s hardly ever seen now,” said Georgie. “She never plays
Lend me your fountain-pen, Georgie.”                                   Bridge, nor comes to Diva’s for tea, and Algernon usually does
                                                                       her marketing.”
 As she held out her hand for it, all her cards tumbled out
of her sleeve. A draught eddied through the open door and               “I must really go to one of her séances, if I can find a free hour
Benjy’s cache on the cupboard fluttered into the air. Elizabeth        some time,” said Lucia. “But my visit must be quite private.
jumped up to gather them, and the cards on which she was               It would never do if it was known that the Mayor attended
sitting fell on to the floor.                                          séances which do seem alien [ed.—akin?] to necromancy. Nec-
                                                                       romancy, as you may know, is divining through the medium
Lucia signed with a slightly unsteady hand, and gave the
                                                                       of a corpse.”
summons back to the Inspector.
                                                                       “But that’s a human corpse, isn’t it?” asked he.
“Thank you, your Worship,” he said. “Very sorry to interrupt
your game, ma’am.”                                                     “I don’t think you can make a distinction—Oh! Take care!”
“Not at all,” said Lucia. “You were only doing your duty.”              She pulled Georgie back, just as he was stepping on to the
He bowed and left the room.                                            road from the pavement. A boy on a bicycle, riding without
                                                                       lights, flew down the hill, narrowly missing him.
“I must apologise to you all,” said Lucia without a moment’s
pause, “but my good Inspector has orders to ask for me                 “Most dangerous!” said Lucia. “No lights and excessive
whenever he wants to see me on any urgent matter. Dear me!             speed. I must ring up my Inspector and report that boy—I
All my cards exposed on the table and Elizabeth’s and Major            wonder who he was.”
Benjy’s on the floor. I am afraid we must have a fresh deal.”          “I don’t see how you can report him unless you know,” sug-
Nobody made any allusion to the late panic, and Lucia dealt            gested Georgie.
again.                                                                 Lucia disregarded such irrelevancy. Her eyes followed the
Diva looked in again soon, carrying a box of chocolates.               boy as he curved recklessly round the sharp corner into the
“Any more Inspectors, dear?” asked Elizabeth acidly. “Any              High Street.
more raids? Your nerves seem rather jumpy.”                             “Really I feel more envious than indignant,” she said. “It
Diva was sorely tempted to retort that their nerves seemed             must be so exhilarating. Such speed! What Lawrence of Ara-
pretty jumpy too, but it was bad for business to be sharp with         bia always loved. I feel very much inclined to learn bicycling.
patrons.                                                               Those smart ladies of the nineties use to find it very amusing.
                                                                       Bicycling- breakfasts in Battersea Park and all that. Our brisk
“No, and I’m giving him such a nice tea,” she said meekly.             walks, whenever I have time to take them, are so limited: in
“But it was a relief, wasn’t it? A box of chocolates for you.          these short afternoons we can hardly get out into the country
Very good ones.”                                                       before it is time to turn again.”
 The rubber came to an end, with everybody eating chocolates,
                                                                       The idea appealed to Georgie, especially when Lucia em-
and a surcharged chat on local topics succeeded. It almost in-
                                                                       bellished it with mysterious and conspiratorial additions.
toxicated Lucia, who, now for weeks, had not partaken of that
                                                                       No one must know that they were learning until they were
heady beverage, and she felt more than ever like Catherine
                                                                       accomplished enough to appear in the High Street in com-
the Great.
                                                                       plete control of their machines. What a sensation that would
                                                            Chapter V
                                                                    30
cause! What envious admiration! So next day they motored             prit of last month exactly the sum that she had fined him for
out to a lonely stretch of road a few miles away, where a man        drunkenness. She thought there was something rather psychic
from the bicycle-shop, riding a man’s bicycle and guiding a          about it, but she could not tell Georgie, for that would have
woman’s, had a clandestine assignation with them. He held            disclosed to him that in the course of her daring, unaccompa-
Georgie on, while Chapman, Lucia’s chauffeur, clung to her,          nied ride she had twice upset a fire- pot and scattered tar and
and for the next few afternoons they wobbled about the road          red hot coals on the highway. Soon she met him still outward
with incalculable swoopings. Lucia was far the quicker of the        bound and he, too, was riding unsupported.
two in acquiring the precarious balance, and she talked all the      “I’ve made such strides to-day,” he called out. “How have
time to Chapman.                                                     you got on?”
“I’m beginning to feel quite secure,” she said. “You might let       “Beautifully! Miles!” said Lucia, as they passed each other.
go for one second. No: there’s a cart coming. Better wait till it    “But we must be getting back. Let me see you turn, dear, with-
has passed. Where’s Mr. Georgie? Far behind, I suppose.”             out dismounting. Not so difficult.”
“Yes, ma’am. Ever so far.”                                           The very notion of attempting that made Georgie unsteady,
 “Oh, what a jolt!” she cried, as her front wheel went over a        and he got off.
loose stone. “Enough to unseat anybody. I put on the brake,           “I don’t believe she can do it herself,” he muttered, as he
don’t I?”                                                            turned his machine and followed her. The motor was waiting
After ringing the bell once or twice, Lucia found the brake.         for them, and just as she was getting in, he observed a blob of
The bicycle stopped dead, and she stepped lightly off.               tar on one of her shoes. She wiped it off on the grass by the
                                                                     side of the road.
“So powerful,” she said remounting. “Now both hands off for
a moment, Chapman.”                                                   Susan had invited them both to a necromantic séance after
                                                                     tea that evening. She explained that she would not ask them
 The day came when Georgie’s attendant still hovered close
                                                                     to tea, because before these sittings she fasted and meditated
to him, but when Lucia outpaced Chapman altogether. A
                                                                     in the dark for an hour. When they got home from their ride,
little way in front of her a man near the edge of the road, with
                                                                     Georgie went to his sitting-room to rest, but Lucia, fresh as a
a saucepan of tar bubbling over a pot of red-hot coals, was
                                                                     daisy, filled up time by studying a sort of catechism from the
doctoring a telegraph post. Then something curious happened
                                                                     Board of the Southern Railway in answer to her suggestion
to the co-ordination between Lucia’s brain and muscles. The
                                                                     of starting a Royal Fish Express with a refrigerating van to
imperative need of avoiding the fire-pot seemed to impel her
                                                                     supply the Court. They did not seem very enthusiastic; they
to make a bee-line for it. With her eyes firmly fixed on it, she
                                                                     put a quantity of queries. Had Her Worship received a Royal
felt in vain for that powerful brake, and rode straight into the
                                                                     command on the subject? Did she propose to run the R.F.E.
fire-pot, upsetting the tar and scattering the coals.
                                                                     to Balmoral when the Court was in Scotland, because there
 “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said to the operator. “I’m rather new at    were Scotch fishing ports a little closer? Had she worked out
it. Would half-a-crown? And then would you kindly hold my            the cost of a refrigerating van? Was the supply of fish at Till-
bicycle while I mount again?”                                        ing sufficient to furnish the Royal Table as well as the normal
 The road was quite empty after that, and Lucia sped prosper-        requirements of the district? Did her Worship—
ously along, wobbling occasionally for no reason, but rejoic-         Grosvenor entered. Mr. Wyse had called, and would much
ing in the comparative swiftness. Then it was time to turn.          like, if quite convenient, to have a few words with Lucia be-
This was impossible without dismounting, but she mounted             fore the séance. That seemed a more urgent call, for all these
again without much difficulty, and there was a lovely view           fish questions required a great deal of thought, and must
of Tilling rising red- roofed above the level land. Telegraph        be gone into with Mrs. Simpson next morning, and she told
post after telegraph post flitted past her, and then she caught      Grosvenor that she could give him ten minutes. He entered,
sight of the man with the fire-pot again. Lucia felt that he was     carrying a small parcel wrapped up in brown paper.
observing her, and once more something curious occurred to
                                                                     “So good of you to receive me,” he said. “I am aware of the
her co-ordinations, and with it the familiar sense of exactly the
                                                                     value of your time. A matter of considerable delicacy. My dear
same situation having happened before. Her machine began
                                                                     Susan tells me that you and your husband have graciously
to swoop about the road; she steadied it, and with the utmost
                                                                     promised to attend her séance to-day.”
precision went straight into the fire-pot again.
                                                                         Lucia referred to her engagement book.
“You seem to make a practice of it,” remarked the operator
severely.                                                             “Quite correct,” she said. “I found I could just fit it in. Five-
                                                                     thirty p.m. is my entry.”
“Too awkward of me,” said Lucia. “It was the very last thing I
wanted to do. Quite the last.”                                        “I will speak but briefly of the ritual of these séances,” said
                                                                     Mr. Wyse. “My Susan sits at the table in our little dining-
 “That’ll be another half-crown,” said the victim, “and now I
                                                                     room, which you have, alas too rarely, honoured by your
come to look at you, it was you and your pals cocked up on
                                                                     presence on what I may call less moribund occasions. It is
the Bench, who fined me five bob last month, for not being
                                                                     furnished with a copious supply of scribbling paper and of
half as unsteady as you.”
                                                                     sharpened pencils for her automatic script. In front of her is a
“Indeed! How small the world is,” said Lucia with great              small shrine, I may term it, of ebony—possibly ebonite—with
dignity and aloofness, taking out her purse. Indeed it was a         white satin curtains concealing what is within. At the com-
strange coincidence that she should have disbursed to the cul-       mencement of the séance, the lights are put out, and my Susan
 Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                          E. F. Benson
                                                                        31
draws the curtains aside. Within are the mortal remains—or                   “Blue Birdie came from the Spice Islands,” she explained,
such as could be hygienically preserved— of her budgerigar.                  waving the shovel in front of the shrine. “Yesterday my hand
She used to wear them in her hat or as a decoration for the                  wrote ‘sweet gums’ as far as I could read it, over and over
bosom. They once fell into a dish, a red dish, at your hospi-                again, and I think that’s what he meant. And I’ve put up a
table table.”                                                                picture of St. Francis preaching to the birds.”
“I remember. Raspberry something,” said Lucia.                                Certainly Susan, as her husband had said, was much
                                                                             changed. She looked dotty. There was an ecstatic light in her
 “I bow to your superior knowledge,” said Mr. Wyse. “Then
                                                                             eye, and a demented psychical smile on her mouth. She wore
Susan goes into a species of trance, and these communications
                                                                             a wreath in her hair, a loose white gown, and reminded Lucia
through automatic script begin. Very voluminous sometimes,
                                                                             of an immense operatic Ophelia. But critical circumstances al-
and difficult to decipher. She spends the greater part of the
                                                                             ways developed Lucia’s efficiency, and she nodded encourag-
day in puzzling them out, not always successfully. Now,
                                                                             ingly to Algernon as Susan swept fragrantly about the room.
adorabile Signora—”
                                                                              “So good of you to let us come, dear Susan,” she said. “I have
“Oh, Mr. Wyse,” cried Lucia, slightly startled.                              very great experience in psychical phenomena: adepts—do
“Dear lady, I only meant Your Worship,” he explained.                        you remember the Guru at Riseholme, Georgie?—adepts
                                                                             always tell me that I should be a marvellous medium if I had
“I see. Stupid of me,” she said. “Yes?”
                                                                             time to devote myself to the occult.”
 “I appeal to you,” continued he. “To put the matter in a nut-
                                                                             Susan held up her hand.
shell, I fear my dear Susan will get unhinged, if this goes on.
Already she is sadly changed. Her strong commonsense, her                    “Hush,” she whispered. “Surely I heard ‘Tweet, Tweet’,
keen appreciation of the comforts and interests of life, her fur-            which means Blue Birdie is here. Good afternoon, darling.”
coat, her Royce, her shopping, her Bridge; all these are taste-              She put the fire-shovel into the fender.
less to her. Nothing exists for her except these communings.”
                                                                              “Very promising,” she said. “Blue Birdie doesn’t usually
“But how can I help you?” asked Lucia …                                      make himself heard so soon, and it always means I’m going
Mr. Wyse tapped the brown paper parcel.                                      into trance. It must be you, Lucia, who have contributed to the
                                                                             psychic force.”
 “I have brought here,” he said, “the source of all our trouble:
                                                                             “Very likely,” said Lucia, “the Guru always said I had im-
Blue Birdie. I abstracted it from the shrine while my dear
                                                                             mense power.”
Susan was meditating in the drawing-room. I want it to disap-
pear in the hope that when she discovers it has gone, she will                “Turn out the lights then, Algernon, all but the little ruby
have to give up the séances, and recover her balance. I would                lamp by my paper, and I will undraw the curtains of the
not destroy it: that would be going too far. Would you there-                shrine. Tweet, Tweet! There it is again, and that lost feeling is
fore, dear lady, harbour the Object in some place unknown                    coming over me.”
to me, so that when Susan asks me, as she undoubtedly will,                   Lucia had been thinking desperately, while Ophelia got
if I know where it is, I may be able to tell her that I do not? A            ready, with that intense concentration which, so often before,
shade jesuitical perhaps, but such jesuitry, I feel, is justifiable.”        had smoothed out the most crumpled situations. She gave a
 Lucia considered this. “I think it is, too,” she said. “I will put          silvery laugh.
it somewhere safe. Anything to prevent our Susan becoming                     “I heard it, I heard it,” she exclaimed to Algernon’s great sur-
unhinged. That must never happen. By the way, is there a                     prise. “Buona sera, Blue Birdie. Have you come to see Mum-
slight odour?”                                                               mie and Auntie Lucia from Spicy Islands? … Oh, I’m sure I
“A reliable and harmless disinfectant,” said Mr. Wyse. “There                felt a little brush of soft feathers on my cheek.”
was a faint smell in the neighbourhood of the shrine which I                  “No! did you really?” asked Susan with the slightest touch of
put down to imperfect taxidermy. A thousand thanks, Wor-                     jealousy in her voice. “My pencil, Algernon.”
shipful Lady. One cannot tell what my Susan’s reactions may                   Lucia gave a swift glance at the shrine, as Susan drew the
be, but I trust that the disappearance of the Object may lead to             curtains, and was satisfied that the most spiritually enlight-
a discontinuance of the séances. In fact, I do not see how they              ened eye could not see that it was empty. But dark though the
could be held without it.”                                                   room was, it was as if fresh candles were being profusely lit in
Lucia had ordered a stack of black japanned boxes to hold                    her brain, as on some High Altar dedicated to Ingenuity. She
documents connected with municipal departments. The arms                     kept her eyes fixed on Susan’s hand poised over her paper. It
of the Borough and her name were painted on them, with the                   was recording very little: an occasional dot or dash was all the
subject with which they were concerned. There were several                   inspiration Blue Birdie could give. For herself, she exclaimed
empty ones, and when Mr. Wyse had bowed himself out,                         now and then that she felt in the dark the brush of the bird’s
she put Blue Birdie into the one labelled “Museum,” which                    wing, or heard that pretty note. Each time she saw that the
seemed appropriate. “Burial Board” would have been appro-                    pencil paused. Then the last and the greatest candle was lit
priate, too, but there was already an agenda-paper in that.                  in her imagination, and she waited calm and composed for
                                                                             the conclusion of the séance, when Susan would see that the
Presently she and Georgie set forth for Starling Cottage.
                                                                             shrine was empty.
Susan and Algernon were ready for them in the dining-room.
                                                                              They sat in the dim ruby light for half an hour, and Susan, as
The shrine with drawn curtains was on the table. Susan had
                                                                             if not quite lost, gave an annoyed exclamation.
heated a shovel and was burning incense on it.
                                                                Chapter V
                                                                   32
 “Very disappointing,” she said. “Turn on the light, Alger-         and that Lucia had had a hand in it, but his probings, as they
non. Blue Birdie began so well and now nothing is coming            walked away, only elicited from her idiotic replies such as
through.”                                                           “Too marvellous! What a privilege!”
Before he could get to the switch, Lucia, with a great gasp of       It soon became known in marketing circles next morning that
excitement, fell back in her chair, and covered her eyes with       very remarkable necromancy had occurred at Starling Cot-
her hands.                                                          tage, that Blue Birdie had fluttered about the darkened room,
                                                                    uttering his sharp cries, and had several times brushed against
“Something wonderful has happened,” she chanted. “Blue
                                                                    the cheek of the Mayor. Then, wonder of wonders, his mortal
Birdie has left us altogether. What a manifestation!”
                                                                    remains had vanished. Mr. Wyse walked up and down the
Still not even peeping, she heard Susan’s voice rise to a           High Street, never varying his account of the phenomena, but
scream.                                                             unable to explain them, and for the first time for some days
“But the shrine’s empty!” she cried. “Where is Blue Birdie,         Susan appeared in her Royce, but without any cockade in her
Algernon?”                                                          hat.
                                                                    There was something mysterious and incredible about it all,
“I have no idea,” said the Jesuit. “What has happened?”
                                                                    but it did not usurp the entire attention of Tilling, for why
Lucia still sat with covered eyes.                                  did Elizabeth, from whom violent sarcasm might have been
“Did I not tell you before the light was turned on that there       expected, seem to shun conversation? She stole rapidly from
had been a great manifestation?” she asked. “I KNEW the             shop to shop, and, when cornered by Diva, coming out of the
shrine would be empty! Let me look for myself.”                     butcher’s, she explained, scarcely opening her lips at all, that
                                                                    she had a relaxed throat, and must only breathe through her
“Not a feather!” she said. “The dematerialization is complete.      nose.
Oh, what would not the President of the Psychical Research
have given to be present! Only a few minutes ago, Susan              “I should open my mouth wide,” said Diva severely, “and
and I—did we not, Susan?—heard his little salutation, and I,        have a good gargle,” but Elizabeth only shook her head with
at any rate, felt his feathers brush my cheek. Now no trace!        an odd smile, and passed on. “Looks a bit hollow-cheeked,
Never, in all my experience, have I seen anything so perfect.”      too,” thought Diva. By contrast, Lucia was far from hollow-
                                                                    cheeked; she had a swollen face, and made no secret of her
 “But what does it mean?” asked the distraught Susan, pulling       appointment with the dentist to have “it” out. From there she
the wreath from her dishevelled hair. Lucia waved her hands         went home, with the expectation of receiving, later in the day,
in a mystical movement.                                             a denture comprising a few molars with a fresh attachment
 “Dear Susan,” she said, beginning to gabble, “Listen! All          added.
these weeks your darling’s spirit has been manifesting itself to     She ate her lunch, in the fashion of a rabbit, with her front
you, and to me also to-night, with its pretty chirps and strokes    teeth.
of the wing, in order to convince you of its presence, earth-
                                                                    “Such a skilful extraction, Georgie,” she said, “but a little
bound and attached to its mortal remains. Now on the astral
                                                                    sore.”
plane Blue Birdie has been able so to flood them with spiritual
reality that they have been dissolved, translated—ah, how            As she had a Council meeting that afternoon, Georgie went
badly I put it—into spirit. Blue Birdie has been helping you        off alone in the motor for his assignation with the boy from
all these weeks to realise that all is spirit. Now you have this    the bicycle shop. The séance last evening still puzzled him,
final, supreme demonstration. Rapt with all of him that was         but he felt more certain than ever that her exclamations that
mortal into a higher sphere!”                                       she heard chirpings and felt the brush of Birdie’s wing were
                                                                    absolute rubbish; so, too, was her gabble that her psychic
“But won’t he ever come back?” asked Susan.                         powers added to Susan’s, had brought about the dematerial-
“Ah, you would not be so selfish as to wish that!” said Lucia.      ization. “All bosh,” he said aloud in an annoyed voice, “and it
“He is free; he is earth-bound no longer, and, by this miracle      only confirms her complicity. It’s very unkind of her not to tell
of dematerialization, has given you proof of that. Let me see       me how she faked it, when she knows how I would enjoy it.”
what his last earthly communication with you was.”                   His bicycle was ready for him; he mounted without the
 Lucia picked up the sheet on which Susan had automatically         slightest difficulty, and the boy was soon left far behind. Then
recorded a few undecipherable scribbles.                            with secret trepidation he observed not far ahead a man with
                                                                    a saucepan of tar simmering over a fire-pot. As he got close,
“I knew it!” she cried. “See, there is nothing but those few
                                                                    he was aware of a silly feeling in his head that it was exercis-
scrawled lines. Your sweet bird’s spirit was losing connection
                                                                    ing a sort of fascination over his machine, but by keeping
with the material sphere; he was rising above it. How it all
                                                                    his eye on the road he got safely by it, though with frightful
hangs together!”
                                                                    wobbles, and dismounted for a short rest.
“I shall miss him dreadfully,” said Susan in a faltering voice.     “Well, that’s a disappointment,” observed the operator. “You
 “But you mustn’t, you mustn’t. You cannot grudge him his           ain’t a patch on the lady who knocked down my fire-pot twice
freedom. And, oh, what a privilege to have assisted at such a       yesterday.”
demonstration! Ennobling! And if my small powers added to           Suddenly Georgie remembered the dab of tar on Lucia’s shoe,
yours, dear, helped toward such a beautiful result, why that is     and illumination flooded his brain.
MORE than a privilege.”
                                                                     “No! Did she indeed?” he said with great interest. “The same
Georgie felt sure that there was hocus-pocus somewhere,             lady twice? That was bad riding!”
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                       E. F. Benson
                                                                    33
 “Oh, something shocking. Not that I’d ever seek to hinder                Presently Grosvenor entered, carrying a small packet, neatly
her, for she gave me half-a-crown per upset. Ain’t she coming            wrapped up and sealed. Lucia put her finger to her lip with a
today?”                                                                  glance at her sleeping husband, and Grosvenor withdrew in
                                                                         tiptoe silence. Lucia knew what this packet must contain; she
 As he rode home Georgie again meditated on Lucia’s secre-
                                                                         could slip the reconstituted denture into her mouth in a mo-
tiveness. Why could she not tell him about her jugglings at the
                                                                         ment, and there would be no more rabbit-nibbling at dinner.
séance yesterday and about her antics with the fire-pot? Even
                                                                         She opened the packet and took out of the cotton-wool wrap-
to him she had to keep up this incessant flow of triumphant
                                                                         ping what it contained.
achievement both in occult matters and in riding a bicycle.
Now that they were man and wife she ought to be more open                 It was impossible to suppress a shrill exclamation, and Geor-
with him. “But I’ll tickle her up about the fire-pot,” he thought        gie awoke with a start. Beneath the light of Lucia’s reading-
vindictively.                                                            lamp there gleamed in her hand something dazzling, some-
                                                                         thing familiar.
When he got home he found Lucia just returned from a most
satisfactory Council meeting.                                            “My dear, what HAVE you got?” he cried. “Why, it’s Eliza-
                                                                         beth’s front teeth! It’s Elizabeth’s widest smile without any of
 “We got through our business most expeditiously,” she said,
                                                                         her face! But how? Why? Blue Birdie’s nothing to this.”
“for Elizabeth was absent, and so there were fewer irrelevant
interruptions. I wonder what ailed her: nothing serious I                Lucia made haste to wrap up the smile again.
hope. She was rather odd in the High Street this morning. No             “Of course it is,” she said. “I knew it was familiar, and the
smiles: she scarcely opened her mouth when I spoke to her.               moment you said ‘smile’ I recognised it. That explains Eliza-
And did you make good progress on your bicycle this after-               beth’s shut mouth this morning. An accident to her smile, and
noon?”                                                                   now by some extraordinary mistake the dentist has sent it
“Admirable,” said he. “Perfect steering. There was a man with            back to me. Me of all people! What are we to do?”
a fire-pot tarring a telegraph-post—”                                     “Send it back to Elizabeth,” suggested Georgie, “with a polite
 “Ah, yes,” interrupted Lucia. “Tar keeps off insects that bur-          note saying it was addressed to you, and that you opened it.
row into the wood. Let us go and have tea.”                              Serve her right, the deceitful woman! How often has she said
                                                                         that she never had any bother with her teeth, and hadn’t been
 “—and an odd feeling came over me,” he continued firmly,
                                                                         to a dentist since she was a child, and didn’t know what tooth-
“that just because I must avoid it, I should very likely run into
                                                                         ache meant. No wonder; that kind doesn’t ache.”
it. Have you ever felt that? I suppose not.”
                                                                         “Yes, that would serve her right—” began Lucia.
“Yes, indeed I have in my earlier stages,” said Lucia cordially.
“But I can give you an absolute cure for it. Fix your eyes                She paused. She began to think intensely. If Elizabeth’s entire
straight ahead, and you’ll have no bother at all.”                       smile had been sent to her, where, except to Elizabeth, had her
                                                                         own more withdrawn aids to mastication been sent? Elizabeth
 “So I found. The man was a chatty sort of fellow. He told me
                                                                         could not possibly identify those four hinterland molars, un-
that some learner on a bicycle had knocked over the pot twice
                                                                         less she had been preternaturally observant, but the inference
yesterday. Can you imagine such awkwardness? I am pleased
                                                                         would be obvious if Lucia personally sent her back her smile.
to have got past that stage.”
                                                                          “No, Georgie; that wouldn’t be kind,” she said. “Poor Eliza-
Lucia did not show by the wink of an eyelid that this arrow
                                                                         beth would never dare to smile at me again, if she knew I
had pierced her, and Georgie, in spite of his exasperation,
                                                                         knew. I don’t deny she richly deserves it for telling all those
could not help admiring such nerve.
                                                                         lies, but it would be an unworthy action. It is by a pure acci-
“Capital!” she said. “I expect you’ve quite caught me up by              dent that we know, and we must not use it against her. I shall
your practice to-day. Now after my Council meeting I think I             instantly send this box back to the dentist’s.”
must relax. A little music, dear?”
                                                                         “But how do you know who her dentist is?” asked Georgie.
 A melodious half-hour followed. They were both familiar
                                                                          “Mr. Fergus,” said Lucia, “who took my tooth so beauti-
with Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony, as arranged for
                                                                         fully this morning; there was his card with the packet. I shall
four hands on the piano, and played it with ravishing sensibil-
                                                                         merely say that I am utterly at a loss to understand why this
ity.
                                                                         has been sent me, and not knowing what the intended desti-
 “Caro, how it takes one out of all petty carpings and schem-            nation was, I return it.”
ings!” said Lucia at the end. “How all our smallnesses are
                                                                         Grosvenor entered again. She bore a sealed packet precisely
swallowed up in that broad cosmic splendour! And how
                                                                         similar to that which now again contained Elizabeth’s smile.
beautifully you played, dear. Inspired! I almost stopped in
order to listen to you.”                                                 “With a note, ma’am,” she said. “And the boy is waiting for a
                                                                         packet left here by mistake.”
 Georgie writhed under these compliments: he could hardly
switch back to dark hints about séances and fire-pots after               “Oh, do open it,” said Georgie gaily. “Somebody else’s teeth,
them. In strong rebellion against his kindlier feelings towards          I expect. I wonder if we shall recognise them. Quite a new
her, he made himself comfortable by the fire, while Lucia                game, and most exciting.”
again tackled the catechism imposed on her by the Directors              Hardly were the words out of his mouth when he perceived
of the Southern Railway. Fatigued by his bicycle-ride, Georgie           what must have happened. How on earth could Lucia get out
fell into a pleasant slumber.                                            of such an awkward situation? But it took far more than that
                                                            Chapter V
                                                                 34
to disconcert the Mayor of Tilling. She gave Grosvenor the
other packet.                                                     Chapter VI
“A sample or two of tea that I was expecting,” she said in her
most casual voice. “Yes, from Twistevant’s.” And she put the


                                                                      E
sample into a drawer of her table.                                            lizabeth’s relaxed throat had completely braced
                                                                              itself by next morning, and at shopping time she was
Who could fail to admire, thought Georgie, this brazen com-                   profuse in her thanks to Diva.
posure?
                                                                  “I followed your advice, dear, and gargled well when I got
                                                                  home,” she said, “and not a trace of it this morning … Ah,
                                                                  here’s Worship and Mr. Georgie. I was just telling Diva how
                                                                  quickly her prescription cured my poor throat; I simply
                                                                  couldn’t speak yesterday. And I hope you’re better, Worship. It
                                                                  must be a horrid thing to have a tooth out.”
                                                                  Lucia and Georgie scrutinized her smile … There was no
                                                                  doubt about it.
                                                                  “Ah, you’re one of the lucky ones,” said Lucia in tones of fer-
                                                                  vent congratulation. “How I envied you your beautiful teeth
                                                                  when Mr. Fergus said he must take one of mine out.”
                                                                      “I envy you too,” said Georgie. “We all do.”
                                                                   These felicitations seemed to speed Elizabeth’s departure. She
                                                                  shut off her smile, and tripped across the street to tell the Pa-
                                                                  dre that her throat was well again, and that she would be able
                                                                  to sing alto as usual in the choir on Sunday. With a slightly
                                                                  puzzled face he joined the group she had just left.
                                                                   “Queer doings indeed!” he said in a sarcastic voice. “Ev-
                                                                  erything in Tilling seems to be vanishing. There’s Mistress
                                                                  Mapp-Flint’s relaxed throat, her as couldn’t open her mouth
                                                                  yesterday. And there’s Mistress Wyse’s little bird. Dematerial-
                                                                  ized, they say. Havers! And there’s Major Benjy’s riding-whip.
                                                                  Very strange indeed. I canna’ make nothing of it a’.”
                                                                   The subject did not lead to much. Lucia had nothing to say
                                                                  about Blue Birdie, nor Diva about the riding-whip. She turned
                                                                  to Georgie.
                                                                   “My tulip bulbs have just come for my garden,” she said.
                                                                  “Do spare a minute and tell me where and how to plant them.
                                                                  Doing it all myself. No gardener. Going to have an open-air
                                                                  tea-place in the Spring. Want it to be a bower.”
                                                                   The group dispersed. Lucia went to the bicycle shop to order
                                                                  machines for the afternoon. She thought it would be better
                                                                  to change the venue and appointed the broad, firm stretch
                                                                  of sands beyond the golf links, where she and Georgie could
                                                                  practise turning without dismounting, and where there would
                                                                  be no risk of encountering fire-pots. Georgie went with Diva
                                                                  into her back- garden.
                                                                  “Things,” explained Diva, “can be handed out of the kitchen
                                                                  window. So convenient. And where shall I have the tulips?”
                                                                  “All along that bed,” said Georgie. “Give me a trowel and the
                                                                  bulbs. I’ll show you.”
                                                                      Diva stood admiringly by.
                                                                      “What a neat hole!” she said.
                                                                  “Press the bulb firmly down, but without force,” said Geor-
                                                                  gie.
                                                                  “I see. And then you cover it up, and put the earth back
                                                                  again—”
                                                                      “And the next about three inches away—”
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                      E. F. Benson
                                                                    35
 “Oh dear, oh dear. What a quantity it will take!” said Diva.            was a huge oyster- shell, on which was poised a substantial
“And DO you believe in Elizabeth’s relaxed throat. I don’t. I’ve         Victorian figure in shawl and bonnet and striped skirt, instead
been wondering—”                                                         of the nude, putty-coloured female. It reproduced on a large
                                                                         scale the snap-shot of Elizabeth which had appeared in the
Through the open window of the kitchen came the unmistak-
                                                                         Hampshire Argus, and the face, unmistakably Elizabeth’s,
able sound of a kettle boiling over.
                                                                         wore a rapturous smile. One arm was advanced, and one
 “Shan’t be a minute,” she said. “Stupid Janet. Must have gone           leg hung out behind, as if she was skating. An equally solid
to do the rooms and left it on the fire.”                                gentleman, symbolizing wind, sprawled, in a frock- coat and
 She trundled indoors. Georgie dug another hole for a bulb,              top-hat, on a cloud behind her and with puffed cheeks pro-
and the trowel brought up a small cylindrical object, black-             pelled her upstream.
ish of hue, but of smooth, polished surface, and evidently                “Dear me, most striking!” said Georgie. “But isn’t it very like
no normal product of a loamy soil. It was metal, and a short             that photograph of Elizabeth in the Argus? And won’t people
stub of wood projected from it. He rubbed the soil off it, and           say that it’s Major Benjy in the clouds?”
engraved on it were two initials, B. F. Memory poised like a
                                                                          “Why, of course they will, stupid, unless they’re blind,” cried
hawk and swooped.
                                                                         Irene. I’ve never forgiven Mapp for being Mayoress and
“It’s it!” he said to himself. “Not a doubt about it. Benjamin           standing against you for the Town Council. This will take her
Flint.”                                                                  down a peg, and all for the sake of Lucia.”
 He slipped it into his pocket while he considered what to do            “It’s most devoted of you, Irene,” he said, “and such fun, too,
with it. No; it would never do to tell Diva what he had found.           but do you think—”
Relics did not bury themselves, and who but Diva could have
                                                                          “I never think,” cried Irene. “I FEEL, and that’s how I feel.
buried this one? Evidently she wanted to get rid of it, and it
                                                                         I’m the only person in this petty, scheming world of Tilling
would be heartless as well as unnecessary to let her know that
                                                                         who acts on impulse. Even Lucia schemes sometimes. And as
she had not succeeded. Bury it again then? There are feats of
                                                                         you’ve introduced the subject—”
which human nature is incapable, and Georgie dug a hole for
the next tulip.                                                          “I haven’t introduced any subject yet,” said Georgie.
 Diva whizzed out again, and went on talking exactly where                “Just like you. You wouldn’t. But Georgie, what a glorious
she had left off before the kettle boiled over, but repeating the        picture, isn’t it? I almost think it has gained by being Victo-
last word to give him the context.                                       rianized; there a devilish reserved force about the Victorians
                                                                         which mere nudity lacks. A nude has all its cards on the table.
 “—wondering if it was not teeth in some way. She often says
                                                                         I’ve a good mind to send it to the Royal Academy instead of
they’re so marvellous, but people who have really got marvel-
                                                                         making a fresco of it. Just to punish the lousy Grundys of Till-
lous teeth DON’T speak about them. They let them talk for
                                                                         ing.”
themselves. Or bite. Tilling’s full of conundrums as the Padre
said. Especially since Lucia’s become Mayor. She’s more dy-              “That would serve them right,” agreed Georgie.
namic than ever and makes things happen all round her. What              The afternoon bicycling along the shore was a great success.
a gift! Oh, dear me, I’m talking to her husband. You don’t               The tide was low, exposing a broad strip of firm, smooth sand.
mind, Mr. Georgie? She’s so central.”                                    Chapman and the bicycle boy no longer ran behind, and,
Georgie longed to tell her how central Lucia had been about              now that there was so much room for turning, neither of the
Elizabeth’s relaxed throat, but that wouldn’t be wise.                   athletes found the least difficulty in doing so, and their turns
                                                                         soon grew, as Lucia said, as sharp as a needle. The rocks and
 “Mind? Not a bit,” he said. “And she would love to know that
                                                                         groins provided objects to be avoided, and they skimmed
you feel that about her. Well, good luck to the tulips, and don’t
                                                                         close by them without collision. They mounted and dismount-
dig them up to see how they’re getting on. It doesn’t help
                                                                         ed, masters of the arts of balance and direction; all those secret
them.”
                                                                         practisings suddenly flowered.
 “Of course not. Won’t it be a bower in the spring? And Irene
                                                                          “It’s time to get bicycles of our own,” said Lucia as they
is going to paint a signboard for me. Sure to be startling. But
                                                                         turned homewards. “We’ll order them to-day, and as soon as
nothing nude, I said, except hands and faces.”
                                                                         they come we’ll do our morning shopping on them.”
Irene was doing physical jerks on her doorstep as Georgie
                                                                         “I shall be very nervous,” said Georgie.
passed her house on his way home.
                                                                          “No need, dear. I pass you as being able to ride through any
 “Come in, King of my heart,” she called. “Oh, Georgie, you’re
                                                                         traffic, and to dismount quickly and safely. Just remember not
a public temptation, you are, when you’ve got on your mus-
                                                                         to look at anything you want to avoid. The head turned well
tard- coloured cape and your blue tam-o’-shanter. Come in,
                                                                         away.”
and let me adore you for five minutes—only five—or shall I
show you the new design for my fresco?”                                  “I am aware of that,” said Georgie, much nettled by this
                                                                         patronage. “And about you. Remember about your brake and
“I should like that best,” said Georgie severely.
                                                                         your bell. You confuse them sometimes. Ring your bell, dear!
 Irene had painted a large sketch in oils to take the place of           Now put on your brake. That’s better.”
that which the Town Surveying Department had prohibited.
                                                                         They joined the car and drove back along Fire-Pot Road.
Tilling, huddling up the hill and crowned by the church
                                                                         Work was still going on there, and Lucia, in a curious fit of
formed the background, and in front, skimming up the river
                                                                         absence of mind, pointed to the bubbling saucepan of tar.
                                                            Chapter VI
                                                                      36
“And to think that only a few days ago,” she said, “I actu-            rough just here.” Then they turned on to the smooth tarmac of
ally—My dear, I’ll confess, especially as I feel sure you’ve           the High Street.
guessed. I upset that tar-pot. Twice.”                                     Evie saw them next.
 “Oh, yes, I knew that,” said Georgie. “But I’m glad you’ve
                                                                       “Dear, oh, dear, you’ll both be killed!” she squealed. “There’s
told me at last. I’ll tell you something, too. Look at this. Tell
                                                                       a motor coming at such a pace. Kenneth, they’re riding bi-
me what it is.”
                                                                       cycles!”
 He took out of his pocket the silver top of Benjy’s riding-
                                                                        They passed superbly on. Lucia dismounted at the post-office;
whip, which he had excavated this morning. Foljambe had
                                                                       Georgie, applying his brake with exquisite delicacy, halted at
polished it up. Lucia’s fine eyebrows knit themselves in recol-
                                                                       the poulterer’s with one foot on the pavement. Elizabeth was
lective agony.
                                                                       in the shop and Diva came out of the post-office.
 “Familiar, somehow,” she mused. “Ah! Initials. B. F. Why,
it’s Benjy’s! Newspaper Office! Riding-whip! Disappearance!            “Good gracious me,” she cried. “Never knew you could. And
Georgie, how did you come by it?”                                      all this traffic!”

Georgie’s account was punctuated by comments from Lucia.               “Quite easy, dear,” said Lucia. “Order a chicken, Georgie,
                                                                       while I get some stamps.”
 “Only the depth of a tulip bulb … Not nearly deep enough,
such want of thoroughness … Diva must have buried it her-              She propped her bicycle against the kerb; Georgie remained
self, I think … So you were quite right not to have told her;          sitting till Mr. Rice came out of the poulterer’s with Elizabeth.
very humiliating. But how did the top come to be snapped                “What a pretty bicycle!” she said, green with jealousy. “Oh,
off? Do you suppose she broke it off, and buried the rest              there’s Worship, too. Well, this is a surprise! So accom-
somewhere else, like murderers cutting up their victims? And           plished!”
look at the projecting end! It looks as if it had been bitten off,
and why should Diva do that? If it had been Elizabeth with              They sailed on again. Georgie went to the lending library, and
her beautiful teeth, it would have been easier to understand.”         found that the book Lucia wanted had come, but he preferred
                                                                       to have it sent to Mallards: hands, after all, were meant to take
“All very baffling,” said Georgie, “but anyhow I’ve traced the         hold of handles. Lucia went on to the grocer’s, and by the time
disappearances a step further. I shall turn my attention to Blue       he joined her there, the world of Tilling had collected: the Pa-
Birdie next.”                                                          dre and Evie, Elizabeth and Benjy and Mr. Wyse, while Susan
Lucia thought she had done enough confession for one day.              looked on from the Royce.
 “Yes, do look into it, Georgie,” she said. “Very baffling, too.       “Such a saving of time,” said Lucia casually to the admiring
But Mr. Wyse is most happy about the effect of my explana-             assembly. “A little spin in the country, Georgie, for half an
tion upon Susan. She has accepted my theory that Blue Birdie           hour?”
has gone to a higher sphere.”
                                                                       They went unerringly down the High Street, leaving an
 “That seems to me a very bad sign,” said Georgie. “It looks as        amazed group behind.
if she was seriously deranged. And, candidly, do you believe
                                                                       “Well, there’s a leddy of pluck,” said the Padre. “See, how she
it yourself?”
                                                                       glides along. A mistress of a’ she touches.”
 “So difficult, isn’t it,” said Lucia in a philosophical voice, “to
draw hard and fast lines between what one rationally be-                   Elizabeth was unable to bear it, and gave an acid laugh.
lieves, and what one trusts is true, and what seems to admit            “Dear Padre!” she said. “What a fuss about nothing! When I
of more than one explanation. We must have a talk about that           was a girl I learned to ride a bicycle in ten minutes. The easiest
some day. A wonderful sunset!”                                         thing in the world.”
 The bicycles arrived a week later, nickel-plated and belled            “Did ye, indeed, me’m,” said the Padre, “and that was very
and braked; Lucia’s had the Borough Arms of Tilling bril-              remarkable, for in those days, sure, there was only those great
liantly painted on the tool-bag behind her saddle. They were           high machines, which you rode straddle.”
brought up to Mallards after dark; and next morning, before
                                                                           “Years and years after that,” said Elizabeth, moving away.
breakfast, the two rode about the garden paths, easily pass-
ing up the narrow path into the kitchen garden, and making                 He turned to Evie.
circles round the mulberry tree on the lawn (“Here we go                “A bicycle would be a grand thing for me in getting about
round the mulberry tree” light-heartedly warbled Lucia) and            the parish,” he said. “I’ll step into the bicycle-shop, and see if
proving themselves adepts. Lucia could not eat much break-             they’ve got one on hire for to learn on.”
fast with the first public appearance so close, and Georgie
vainly hoped that tropical rain would begin. But the sun con-           “Oh, Kenneth, I should like to learn, too,” said Evie. “Such
tinued to shine, and at the shopping hour they mounted and             fun!”
bumped slowly down the cobbles of the steep street into the             Meantime the pioneers, rosy with success, had come to the
High Street, ready to ring their bells. Irene was the first to see     end of the High Street. From there the road sloped rapidly
them, and she ran by Lucia’s side.                                     downhill. “Now we can put on the pace a little, Georgie,” said
“Marvellous, perfect person,” she cried, putting out her hand          Lucia, and she shot ahead. All her practisings had been on the
as if to lay it on Lucia’s. “What is there you can’t do?”              level roads of the marsh or on the sea-shore, and at once she
                                                                       was travelling much faster than she had intended, and with
“Yes, dear, but don’t touch me,” screamed Lucia in panic. “So
                                                                       eyes glued on the curving road, she fumbled for her brake.
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                          E. F. Benson
                                                                   37
She completely lost her head. All she could find in her agita-          “Quite right to apply to me, Inspector,” said Lucia. “You did
tion was her bell, and, incessantly ringing it, she sped with           your duty. Certainly I will sign the summons.”
ever increasing velocity down the short steep road towards              “But we don’t know who it was yet, ma’am. I should like to
the bridge over the railway. A policeman on point duty                  ask your servants to account for their whereabouts at eleven
stepped forward, with the arresting arm of the law held out             a.m.”
to stop her, but as she took no notice he stepped very hastily
back again, for to commit suicide and possibly manslaughter,            “No need to ask them, Inspector,” said Lucia. “I was the cul-
was a more serious crime than dangerous riding. Lucia’s face            prit. Please send the summons round here and I will sign it.”
was contorted with agonised apprehension, her eyes stared,              “But, your Worship—”
her mouth was wide open, and all the young constable could              Lucia was desperately afraid that the Inspector might wriggle
do by way of identification was to notice, when the unknown             out of summoning the Mayor and that the case would never
female had whisked by him, that the bicycle was new and                 come into Court. She turned a magisterial eye on him.
that there was the Borough coat of arms on the tool-bag.
Lucia passed between a pedestrian and a van, just avoiding               “I will not have one law for the rich and another for the poor
both: she switch-backed up and down the railway-bridge,                 in Tilling,” she said. “I was riding at a dangerous speed. It
still ringing her bell … Then in front of her lay the long climb        was very thoughtless of me, and I must suffer for it. I ask you
of the Tilling hill, and as the pace diminished she found her           to proceed with the case in the ordinary course.”
brake. She dismounted, and waited for Georgie. He had lost               This one appearance of Lucia and Georgie doing their shop-
sight of her in the traffic, and followed her cautiously in icy         ping on bicycles had been enough to kindle the spark of
expectation of finding her and that beautiful new bicycle               emulation in the breasts of the more mature ladies of Tilling.
flung shattered on the road. Then he had one glimpse of her             It looked so lissom, so gaily adolescent to weave your way in
swift swallow-flight up the steep incline of the railway-bridge.        and out of traffic and go for a spin in the country, and surely
Thank God she was safe so far! He traversed it himself and              if Lucia could, they could also. Her very casualness made it
then saw her a hundred yards ahead up the hill. Long before             essential to show her that there was nothing remarkable about
he reached her his impetus was exhausted, and he got off.               her unexpected feat. The bicycle shop was besieged with
                                                                        enquiries for machines on hire and instructors. The Padre and
“Don’t hurry, dear,” she called to him in a trembling voice.
                                                                        Evie were the first in the field, and he put off his weekly visit
“You were right, quite right to ride cautiously. Safety first
                                                                        to the workhouse that afternoon from half-past two till half-
ALWAYS.”
                                                                        past three, and they hired the two bicycles which Lucia and
 “I felt very anxious about you,” said Georgie, panting as he           Georgie no longer needed. Diva popped in next, and was cha-
joined her. “You oughtn’t to have gone so fast. You deserve             grined to find that the only lady’s bicycle was already bespo-
to be summoned for dangerous riding.” A vision, vague and               ken, so she engaged it for an hour on the following morning.
bright, shot through Lucia’s brain. She could not conceive a            Georgie that day did quite complicated shopping alone, for
more enviable piece of publicity than, at her age, to be sum-           Lucia was at a committee meeting at the Town Hall. She rode
moned for so athletic a feat. It was punishable, no doubt, by           there—a distance of a hundred and fifty yards—to save time,
law, but like a crime passionel, what universal admiration it           but the gain was not very great, for she had to dismount twice
would excite! What a dashing Mayor!                                     owing to the narrow passage between posts for the prevention
“I confess I was going very fast,” she said, “but I felt I had          of vehicular traffic. Georgie, having returned from his shop-
such complete control of my machine. And so exhilarating. I             ping, joined her at the Town Hall when her meeting was over,
don’t suppose anybody has ever ridden so fast down Land-                and, with brakes fully applied, they rode down into the High
gate Street. Now, if you’re rested, shall we go on?”                    Street, en route for another dash into the country. Susan’s
                                                                        Royce was drawn up at the bicycle- shop.
 They had a long but eminently prudent ride, and after lunch a
well- earned siesta. Lucia, reposing on the sofa in the garden-         “Georgie, I shan’t have a moment’s peace,” said Lucia, “until I
room, was awakened by Grosvenor’s entry from a frightful                know whether Susan has ambitions too. I must just pop in.”
nightmare that she was pedalling for all she was worth down             Both the Wyses were there. Algernon was leaning over Su-
Beachy Head into the arms of a policeman on the shore.                  san’s shoulder as she studied a catalogue of the newest types
                                                                        of tricycles …
“Inspector Morrison, ma’am,” said Grosvenor. “He’ll call
again if not convenient.”                                                The Mayoress alone remained scornful and aloof. Looking
                                                                        out from her window one morning, she observed Diva ap-
Nightmare vanished: the vague vision grew brighter. Was it
                                                                        proaching very slowly up the trafficless road that ran past
possible? …
                                                                        Grebe buttressed up by Georgie’s late instructor, who seemed
“Certainly, at once,” she said springing up and Inspector               to have some difficulty in keeping her perpendicular. She hur-
Morrison entered.                                                       ried to the garden-gate, reaching it just as Diva came opposite.
 “Sorry to disturb your Worship,” he said, “but one of my men           “Good morning, dear,” she said. “Sorry to see that you’re
has reported that about eleven a.m. to-day a new bicycle with           down with it, too.”
the arms of Tilling on the tool-bag was ridden at a dangerous            “Good morning, dear,” echoed Diva, with her eyes glued to
speed by a female down Landgate Street. He made enquiries               the road in front of her. “I haven’t the slightest idea what you
at the bicycle shop and found that a similar machine was sent           mean.”
to your house yesterday. I therefore ask your permission to
question your domestics—”                                               “But is it wise to take such strenuous exercise?” asked Eliza-
                                                                        beth. “A great strain surely on both of you.”
                                                            Chapter VI
                                                                    38
“Not a bit of a strain,” called Diva over her shoulder. “And         was endangering the safety of his fellow citizens. The mag-
my instructor says I shall soon get on ever so quick.”               istrates gave him seven days in which to pay. Then came the
                                                                     great moment. The Mayor rose, and in a clear unfaltering
The bicycle gave a violent swerve.
                                                                     voice, said:
“Oh, take care,” cried Elizabeth in an anxious voice, “or you’ll
                                                                     “Your Worships, I am personally concerned in the next case,
get off ever so quick.”
                                                                     and will therefore quit my seat on the Bench. Would the
 “We’ll rest a bit,” said Diva to her instructor, and she stepped    senior of Your Worships kindly preside in my temporary
from her machine and went back to the gate to have it out            absence?”
with her friend. “What’s the matter with you,” she said to
                                                                         She descended into the body of the Town Hall.
Elizabeth, “is that you can’t bear us following Lucia’s lead.
Don’t deny it. Look in your own heart, and you’ll find it’s true,    “The next case before your Worships,” said the Town Clerk,
Elizabeth. Get over it, dear. Make an effort. Far more Chris-        “is one of dangerous riding of a push-bicycle on the part of
tian!”                                                               Mrs. Lucia Pillson. Mrs. Lucia Pillson.”
 “Thank you for your kind interest in my character, Diva,”            She pleaded guilty in a voice of calm triumph, and the Bench
retorted Elizabeth. “I shall know now where to come when in          heard the evidence. The first witness was a constable, who
spiritual perplexity.”                                               swore that he would speak the truth, the whole truth and
                                                                     nothing but the truth. He was on point duty by the railway-
 “Always pleased to advise you,” said Diva. “And now give
                                                                     bridge at 11 a.m. on Tuesday the twelfth instant. He observed
me a treat. You told us all you learned to ride in ten minutes
                                                                     a female bicyclist approaching at a dangerous speed down
when you were a girl. I’ll give you my machine for ten min-
                                                                     Landgate Street, when there was a lot of traffic about. He put
utes. See if you can ride at the end of it! A bit coy, dear? Not
                                                                     out his arm to stop her, but she dashed by him. He estimated
surprised. And rapid motion might be risky for your relaxed
                                                                     her speed at twenty miles an hour, and she seemed to have no
throat.”
                                                                     control over her machine. After she had passed, he observed
 There was a moment’s pause. Then both ladies were so                a tool-bag on the back of the saddle emblazoned with the
pleased at their own brilliant dialectic that Elizabeth said she     Borough coat-of-arms. He made enquiries at the bicycle-shop
would pop in to Diva’s establishment for tea, and Diva said          and ascertained that a machine of this description had been
that would be charming.                                              supplied the day before to Mrs. Pillson of Mallards House. He
 In spite of Elizabeth (or perhaps even because of her) this         reported to his superior.
revival of the bicycling nineties grew most fashionable. Major       “Have you any questions, your Worsh—to ask the witness?”
Benjy turned traitor and was detected by his wife surrepti-          asked the Town Clerk.
tiously practising with the gardener’s bicycle on the cinder
                                                                         “None,” said Lucia eagerly. “Not one.”
path in the kitchen garden. Mr. Wyse suddenly appeared
on the wheel riding in the most elegant manner. Figgis, his           The next witness was the pedestrian she had so nearly an-
butler, he said, happened to remember that he had a bicycle          nihilated. Lucia was dismayed to see that he was the opera-
put away in the garage and had furbished it up. Mr. Wyse             tor with the fire- pot. He began to talk about his experiences
introduced a new style: he was already an adept and instead          when tarring telegraph- posts some while ago, but, to her
of wearing a preoccupied expression, made no more of it than         intense relief, was promptly checked and told he must confine
if he was strolling about on foot. He could take a hand off his      himself to what occurred at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. He deposed
handle-bar, to raise his hat to the Mayor, as if one hand was        that at that precise hour, as he was crossing the road by the
all he needed. When questioned about this feat, he said that it      railway-bridge, a female bicyclist dashed by him at a speed
was not really difficult to take both hands off without instant-     which he estimated at over twenty miles an hour. A gratified
ly crashing, but Lucia, after several experiments in the gar-        smile illuminated the Mayor’s face, and she had no questions
den, concluded that Mr. Wyse, though certainly a very skilful        to ask him.
performer, was wrong about that. To crown all, Susan, after           That concluded the evidence, and the Inspector of Police said
a long wait at the corner of Porpoise Street, where a stand-         there were no previous convictions against the accused.
ing motor left only eight or nine feet of the roadway clear,
emerged majestically into the High Street on a brand new              The Bench consulted together: there seemed to be some dif-
tricycle. “Those large motors,” she complained to the Mayor,         ference of opinion as to the amount of the fine. After a little
“ought not to be allowed in our narrow streets.”                     discussion the temporary Chairman told Lucia that she also
                                                                     would be fined twenty shillings. She borrowed it from Geor-
 The Town Hall was crowded to its utmost capacity on the             gie, who was sitting near, and so did not ask for time in which
morning that Lucia was summoned to appear before her own             to pay. With a superb air she took her place again on the
Court for dangerous riding. She had bicycled there, now ne-          Bench.
gotiating the anti- vehicular posts with the utmost precision,
and, wearing her semiofficial hat, presided on the Borough            Georgie waited for her till the end of the sitting, and stood a
Bench. She and her brother magistrates had two cases to              little in the background, but well in focus, while Lucia posed
try before hers came on, of which one was that of a motor-           on the steps of the Town Hall, in the act of mounting her
cyclist whose brakes were out of order. The Bench, consult-          bicycle, for the photographer of the Hampshire Argus. His
ing together, took a grave view of the offence, and imposed          colleague on the reporting staff had taken down every word
a penalty of twenty shillings. Lucia in pronouncing sentence,        uttered in this cause célèbre and Lucia asked him to send
addressed some severe remarks to him: he would have been             proofs to her, before it went to press. It was a slight disap-
unable to pull up, she told him, in case of an emergency, and        pointment that no reporters or photographers had come down
 Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                          E. F. Benson
                                                                    39
from London, for Mrs. Simpson had been instructed to inform              the various rates of progress which each found comfortable,
the Central News Agency of the day and hour of the trial …               could not start together, if they were to arrive fairly simultane-
But the Mayor was well satisfied with the local prestige which           ously, and Susan on her tricycle was always the first to leave
her reckless athleticism had earned for her. Elizabeth, indeed,          Tilling, and Diva followed. There was some competition for
had attempted to make her friends view the incident in a dif-            the honour of being the last to leave: Lucia, with the cachet of
ferent light, and she had a rather painful scene on the subject          furious riding to her credit, waited till she thought the Padre
with the Padre and Evie.                                                 must have started, while he was sure that his normal pace was
                                                                         faster than hers. In consequence, they usually both arrived
 “All too terrible,” she said. “I feel that poor Worship has ut-
                                                                         very late and very hot. They all wondered how they could
terly disgraced herself, and brought contempt on the dignified
                                                                         ever have confined physical exercise within the radius of pe-
office she holds. Those centuries of honourable men who have
                                                                         destrianism, and pitied Elizabeth for the pride that debarred
been Mayors here must turn in their graves. I’ve been wonder-
                                                                         her from joining in these pleasant excursions.
ing whether I ought not, in mere self-respect, to resign from
being Mayoress. It associates me with her.”
“That’s not such a bad notion,” said the Padre, and Evie gave
several shrill squeaks.
“On the other hand, I should hate to desert her in her trou-
ble,” continued the Mayoress. “So true what you said in your
sermon last Sunday, Padre, that it’s our duty as Christians
always to stand by our friends, whenever they are in trouble
and need us.”
“So because she needs you, which she doesn’t an atom,” burst
out Evie, “you come and tell us that she’s disgraced herself,
and made everybody turn in their graves. Most friendly, Eliza-
beth.”
 “And I’m of wee wifie’s opinion, mem,” said the Padre, with
the brilliant thought of Evie becoming Mayoress in his mind,
“and if you feel you canna’ preserve your self-respect un-
less you resign, why, it’s your Christian duty to do so, and I
warrant that won’t incommode her, so don’t let the standing
by your friends deter you. And if you ask me what I think of
Mistress Lucia’s adventure, ‘twas a fine spunky thing to have
gone flying down the Landgate Street at thirty miles an hour.
You and I daurna do it, and peradventure we’d be finer folk if
we daur. And she stood and said she was guilty like a God-
fearing upstanding body and she deserves a medal, she does.
Come awa’, wifie: we’ll get to our bicycle-lesson.”
 The Padre’s view was reflected in the town generally, and his
new figure of thirty miles an hour accepted. Though it was a
very lawless and dangerous feat, Tilling felt proud of having
so spirited a Mayor. Diva indulged in secret visions of record-
breaking when she had learned to balance herself, and Susan
developed such a turn of speed on her tricycle that Algernon
called anxiously after her “Not so fast, Susan, I beg you.
Supposing you met something.” The Padre scudded about
his parish on the wheel, and, as the movement grew, Lucia
offered to coach anybody in her garden. It became fashionable
to career up and down the High Street after dark, when traffic
was diminished, and the whole length of it resounded with
tinkling bells and twinkled with bicycle lamps. There were
no collisions, for everyone was properly cautious, but on one
chilly evening the flapping skirt of Susan’s fur coat got so in-
extricably entangled in the chain of her tricycle that she had to
shed it, and Figgis trundled coat and tricycle back to Porpoise
Street in the manner of a wheel-barrow.
 As the days grew longer and the weather warmer, picnic-par-
ties were arranged to points of interest within easy distance, a
castle, a church or a Martello tower, and they ate sandwiches
and drank from their thermos flasks in ruined dungeons or on
tombstones or by the edge of a moat. The party, by reason of
                                                            Chapter VI
                                                                      40
Chapter VII                                                            to draw up a schedule of the discourses. “And if you won’t do
                                                                       a scene with me, I might do the sleep-walking from Macbeth
                                                                       by myself. But you must help me with the Beethoven evening.
                                                                       Extracts from the Fifth Symphony for four hands on the piano.


L
         ucia had failed to convince the Directors of the              That glorious work contains, as I have always maintained, the
         Southern Railway that the Royal Fish Train was a              Key to the Master’s soul. We must practise hard, and get our
         practicable scheme. “Should Their Majesties” so ran           extracts by heart.”
the final communication “express Their Royal wish to be sup-            Georgie felt the sensation, that was now becoming odiously
plied with fish from Tilling, the Directors would see that the         familiar, of being hunted and harried. Life for him was losing
delivery was made with all expedition, but in their opinion            that quality of leisure, which gave one time to feel busy and
the ordinary resources of the line will suffice to meet Their          ready to take so thrilled an interest in the minute happen-
requirements, of which at present no intimation has been               ings of the day. Lucia was poisoning that eager fount by this
received.”                                                             infusion of mayoral duties and responsibilities, and tedious
 “A sad want of enterprise, Georgie,” said the Mayor as she            schemes for educational lectures and lighting of the streets.
read this discouraging reply. “A failure to think municipally          True, the old pellucid spring gushed out sometimes: who, for
and to see the distinction of bringing an Elizabethan custom           instance, but she could have made Tilling bicycle-crazy, or
up to date. I shall not put the scheme before my Council at            have convinced Susan that Blue Birdie had gone to a higher
all.” Lucia dropped this unenterprising ultimatum into the             sphere? That was her real métier, to render the trivialities of
waste paper basket. The afternoon post had just arrived and            life intense for others. But how her schemes for the good of
the two letters which it brought for her followed the ultima-          Tilling bored him!
tum.                                                                   Lucia finished sketching out her schedule, and began gab-
“My syllabus for a series of lectures at the Literary Institute is     bling again.
not making a good start,” she said. “I asked Mr. Desmond Mc-            “Yes, Georgie, the dates seem to work out all right,” she
Carthy to talk to us about the less known novelists of the time        said, “though Mrs. Simpson must check them for me. April
of William IV, but he has declined. Nor can Mr. Noel Coward            the fifteenth: my inaugural lecture on Shakespeare: April the
speak on the technique of the modern stage on any of the five          twenty-second: the Padre on Free-Will which I am convinced
nights I offered him. I am surprised that they should not have         will attract all serious people, for it is a most interesting
welcomed the opportunity to get more widely known.”                    subject, and I don’t think any final explanation of it has yet
“Tar’some of them,” said Georgie sympathetically, “such a              been given; April the twenty-ninth, Irene on the technique of
chance for them.”                                                      fresco painting: May the sixth: Diva on tea-shops. I expect I
                                                                       shall have to write it for her. May the thirteenth: Major Benjy
Lucia gave him a sharp glance, then mused for a while in               on tigers: May the twentieth: Beethoven, me again … I should
silence over her scheme. Fresh ideas began to flood her mind           like to see these little centres of enlightenment established
so copiously that she could scarcely scribble them down fast           everywhere in England, and I count it a privilege to be able,
enough to keep up with them.                                           in my position, to set an example. The B.B.C., I don’t deny,
 “I think I will lecture on the Shakespearian drama myself,”           is doing good work, but lectures delivered viva voce are so
she said. “That should be the inaugural lecture, say April the         much more vivid. Personal magnetism. I shall always enter-
fifteenth. I don’t seem to have any engagement that night, and         tain the lecturer and a few friends to a plain supper- party
you will take the chair for me … Georgie, we might act a short         here afterwards, and we can continue the discussion in the
scene together, without dresses or scenery to illustrate the           garden-room. I shall ask some distinguished expert on the
simplicity of the Elizabethan stage. Really, on reflection I think     subject to come down and stay the night after each lecture:
my first series of lectures had much better be given by local          the Bishop when the Padre lectures on Free-Will: Mr. Gielgud
speakers. The Padre would address us one night on Free Will            when I speak about Shakespearian technique: Sir Henry Wood
or the Origin of Evil. Irene on the technique of fresco painting.      when we have our Beethoven night: and perhaps the Manager
Diva on catering for the masses. Then I ought to ask Elizabeth         of Messrs. Lyons after Diva’s discourse. I shall send my Town
to lecture on something, though I’m sure I don’t know on               Council complimentary seats in the first row for the inaugu-
what subject she has any ideas of the slightest value. Ah! In-         ral lecture. How does that strike you for a rough sketch? You
stead, Major Benjy on tiger-shooting. Then a musical evening:          know how I value your judgment, and it is most important to
the art of Beethoven, with examples. That would make six               get the initial steps right.”
lectures; six would be enough. I think it would be expected of          Georgie was standing by her table, suppressing a yawn as he
me to give the last as well as the first. Admission, a shilling, or    glanced at the schedule, and feeling in his waistcoat pocket
five shillings for the series. Official, I think, under the patron-    for his gun- metal match-box with the turquoise latch. As
age of the Mayor.”                                                     he scooped for it, there dropped out the silver top of Major
“No,” said Georgie, going back to one of the earlier topics. “I        Benjy’s riding whip, which he always kept on his person. It
won’t act any Shakespearian scene with you to illustrate Eliza-        fell noiselessly on the piece of damp sponge which Mrs. Simp-
bethan simplicity. And if you ask me I don’t believe people            son always preferred to use for moistening postage-stamps,
will pay a shilling to hear the Padre lecture on Free-Will. They       rather than the less genteel human tongue. Simultaneously
can hear that sort of thing every Sunday morning for nothing           the telephone-bell rang, and Lucia jumped up.
but the offertory.”                                                     “That incessant summons!” she said. “A perfect slavery. I
“I will consider that,” said Lucia, not listening and beginning        think I must take my name off the exchange, and give my
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                         E. F. Benson
                                                                     41
number to just a few friends … Yes, yes, I am the Mayor of                 It was barely eleven when the party broke up, for Elizabeth
Tilling. Irene, is it? … My dear how colossal! I don’t sup-               was totally unable to concentrate on cards when her bag con-
pose anybody in Tilling has ever had a picture in the Royal               tained the lock, if not the key to the unsolved mystery, and she
Academy before. Is that the amended version of your fresco,               insisted that dear Worship looked very tired. But both she and
Venus with no clothes on coming to Tilling? I’m sure this one             Benjy were very tired before they had framed and been forced
is far nicer. How I wish I had seen it before you sent it in, but         to reject all the hypotheses which could account for the reap-
when the Academy closes you must show it at our picture-                  pearance in so fantastic a place of this fragment of the riding-
exhibition here. Oh, I’ve put you down to give a lecture in               whip. If the relic had come to light in one of Diva’s jam-puffs,
my Mayoral course of Culture on the technique of painting                 the quality of the mystery would have been less baffling, for at
in fresco. And you’re going up to London for varnishing day?              least it would have been found on the premises where it was
Do take care. So many pictures have been ruined by being                  lost, but how it had got to Lucia’s table was as inexplicable as
varnished too much.”                                                      the doctrine of Freewill. They went over the ground five or six
                                                                          times.
She rang off.
                                                                           “Lucia wasn’t even present when it vanished,” said Elizabeth
“Accepted, is it?” said Georgie in great excitement. “There’ll
                                                                          as the clock struck midnight. “Often, as you know, I think
be wigs on the green if it’s exhibited here. I believe I told you
                                                                          Worship is not quite as above-board as I should wish a col-
about it, but you were wrestling with the Royal Fish Express.
                                                                          league to be, but here I do not suspect her.”
Elizabeth, unmistakable, in a shawl and bonnet and striped
skirt and button-boots, standing on an oyster-shell, and being             Benjy poured himself out some whisky. Finding that Eliza-
blown into Tilling by Benjy in a top-hat among the clouds.”               beth was far too absorbed in speculation to notice anything
                                                                          that was going on round her, he hastily drank it, and poured
 “Dear me, that sounds rather dangerously topical,” said Lu-              out some more.
cia. “But it’s time to dress. The Mapp-Flints are dining, aren’t
they? What a coincidence!”                                                “Pillson then,” he suggested.

They had a most harmonious dinner, with never a mention                    “No; I rang him up that night from Diva’s, as he was go-
of bicycles. Benjy readily consented to read a paper on tiger-            ing to his bath,” said she, “and he denied knowing anything
shooting on May 13.                                                       about it. He’s fairly truthful—far more truthful than Worship
                                                                          anyhow—as far as I’ve observed.”
“Ah, what a joy,” said Lucia. “I will book it. And some prop-
                                                                          “Diva then,” said Benjy, quietly strengthening his drink.
erties perhaps, to give vividness. The riding-whip with which
you hit the tiger in the face. Oh, how stupid of me. I had for-            “But I searched and I searched, and she had not been out
gotten about its mysterious disappearance which was never                 of my sight for five minutes. And where’s the rest of it? One
cleared up. Pass me the sugar, Georgie.”                                  could understand the valuable silver cap disappearing—
                                                                          though I don’t say for a moment that Diva would have stolen
 There was a momentary pause, and Lucia grew very red in
                                                                          it—but it’s just that part that has reappeared.”
the face as she buried her orange in sugar. But that was soon
over, and presently the Mayor and Mayoress went out to the                “All mos’ mysterious,” said Benjy. “But wo’ll you do next,
garden-room with interlaced waists and arms. Lucia had told               Liz? There’s the cruksh. Wo’ll you do next?”
Georgie not to stop too long in the dining-room and Benjy                  Benjy had not observed that the Mayoress was trembling
made the most of his time and drank a prodigious quantity of              slightly, like a motor-bicycle before it starts. Otherwise he
a sound but inexpensive port. Elizabeth had eaten a dried fig             would not have been so surprised when she sprang up with a
for dessert, and a minute but adamantine fig-seed had lodged              loud crow of triumph.
itself at the base of one of her beautiful teeth. She knew she
                                                                           “I have it,” she cried. “Eureka! as Worship so often says when
would not have a tranquil moment till she had evicted it, and
                                                                          she’s thought of nothing at all. Don’t say a word to anybody,
she needed only a few seconds unobserved.
                                                                          Benjy, about the silver cap, but have a fresh cane put into it,
“Dear Worship,” she said. “Give me a treat, and let your                  and use it as a property (isn’t that the word?) at your tiger-
hands just stray over the piano. Haven’t heard you play for               talk, just as if it had never been lost. That’ll be a bit of puzzle-
ever so long.”                                                            work for guilty persons, whoever they may be. And it may
Lucia never needed pressing and opened the lid of the instru-             lead to something in the way of discovery. The thief may turn
ment.                                                                     pale or red or betray himself in some way … What a time of
                                                                          night!”
“I’m terribly rusty, I’m afraid,” she said, “for I get no time for
                                                                          Puzzle-work began next morning.
practising nowadays. Beethoven, dear, or a morsel of precious
Mozart; whichever you like.”                                              “I can’t make out what’s happened to it,” said Georgie, in a
                                                                          state of fuss, as he came down very late to breakfast, “and
“Oh, prettioth Mothart, pleath,” mumbled Elizabeth, who
                                                                          Foljambe can’t either.”
had effaced herself behind Lucia’s business table. A moment
sufficed, and her eye, as she turned round towards the piano               Lucia gave an annoyed glance at the clock. It was five minutes
again and drank in precious Mozart, fell on Mrs. Simpson’s                to ten; Georgie was getting lazier and lazier in the morning.
piece of damp sponge. Something small and bright, long-lost               She gave the special peal of silvery laughter in which mirth
and familiar, gleamed there. Hesitation would have been mere              played a minor part.
weakness (besides, it belonged to her husband). She reached               “Good afternoon, caro,” she said sarcastically. “Quite rested?
out a stealthy hand, and put it inside her bead-bag.                      Capital!”

                                                            Chapter VII
                                                                    42
Georgie did not like her tone.                                        Lucia’s decisive mind wavered. She saw herself sitting in a
“No, I’m rather tired still,” he said. “I shall have a nap after     prominent box at Covent Garden, with all her seed-pearls and
breakfast.”                                                          her Mayoral badge. Reporters would be eager to know who
                                                                     she was, and she would be careful to tell the box-attendant,
 Lucia abandoned her banter, as he did not seem to appreciate        so that they could find out without difficulty. And at Till-
it.                                                                  ing, what réclame to have gone up to London on the prima
 “Well, I’ve finished,” she said. “Poor Worship has got to go        donna’s invitation to hear this performance of the world-fa-
and dictate to Mrs. Simpson. And what was it you and Fol-            mous Lucrezia. She might give an interview to the Hampshire
jambe couldn’t find?”                                                Argus about it when she got back.
“The silver top to Benjy’s riding-whip. I was sure it was in my       “Of course we must go,” continued Georgie. “But she wants
yesterday’s waistcoat pocket, but it isn’t, and Foljambe and I       to know at once.”
have been through all my suits. Nowhere.”
                                                                      Still Lucia hesitated. It would be almost as magnificent to tell
 “Georgie, how very queer,” she said. “When did you see it           Tilling that she had refused Olga’s invitation, except for the
last?”                                                               mortifying fact that Tilling would probably not believe her.
“Some time yesterday,” he said, opening a letter. A bill.            And if she refused, what would Georgie do? Would he leave
                                                                     her to lecture on Beethoven all by herself, or would he loyally
“It’ll turn up. Things do,” said Lucia.
                                                                     stand by her, and do his part in the four-handed pianoforte
He was still rather vexed with her.                                  arrangement of the Fifth Symphony? He furnished the answer
“They seem to be better at vanishing,” he said. “There was           to that unspoken question.
Blue Birdie—”                                                         “I’m sorry if you find it impossible to go,” he said quite
 He opened the second of his letters, and the thought of             firmly, “but I shall go anyhow. You can play bits of the Moon-
riding-whip and Blue Birdie alike were totally expunged from         light by yourself. You’ve often said it was another key to
his brain.                                                           Beethoven’s soul.”
“My dear,” he cried. “You’d never guess. Olga Bracely. She’s          It suddenly struck Lucia that Georgie seemed not to care
back from her world-tour.”                                           two hoots whether she went or not. Her sensitive ear could
 Lucia pretended to recall distant memories. She actually had        not detect the smallest regret in his voice, and the prospect
the most vivid recollection of Olga Bracely, and, not less, of       of his going alone was strangely distasteful. She did not fear
Georgie’s unbounded admiration of her in his bachelor days.          any temperamental disturbance; Georgie’s passions were not
She wished the world-tour had been longer.                           volcanic, but there was glitter and glamour in opera houses
                                                                     and prima donnas which might upset him if he was unchap-
“Olga Bracely?” she said vaguely. “Ah, yes. Prima donna.             eroned.
Charming voice; some notes lovely. So she’s got back. How
nice!”                                                               “I’ll try to manage it somehow, dear, for your sake,” she said,
                                                                     “for I know how disappointed you would be if I didn’t join
 “—and she’s going to sing at Covent Garden next month,”             you in Olga’s welcome to London. Dear me; I’ve been keeping
continued Georgie, deep in her letter. “They’re producing Cor-       Mrs. Simpson waiting a terrible time. Shall I take Olga’s letter
tese’s opera, Lucrezia, on May the twentieth. Oh, she’ll give us     and dictate a grateful acceptance from both of us?”
seats in her box. It’s a gala performance. Isn’t that too lovely?
And she wants us to come and stay with her at Riseholme.”             “Don’t bother,” said Georgie. “I’ll do it. You’re much too busy.
                                                                     And as for that bit of Benjy’s riding-whip, I daresay it will
“Indeed, most kind of her,” said Lucia. “The dear thing! But
                                                                     turn up.”
she doesn’t realize how difficult it is for me to get away from
Tilling while I am Mayor.”                                            The prospectus of the Mayoral series of cultural lectures at
                                                                     the Literary Institute was re-cast, for the other lecturers, wild-
“I don’t suppose she has the slightest idea that you are
                                                                     ly excited at the prospect, found every night equally conve-
Mayor,” said Georgie, beginning to read the letter over again.
                                                                     nient. Mrs. Simpson was supplied with packets of tickets, and
 “Ah, I forgot,” said Lucia. “She has been on a world tour,          books of receipts and counterfoils for those who sent a shilling
you told me. And as for going up to hear Lucrezia—though             for a single lecture or five shillings for the whole course. She
it’s very kind of her—I think we must get out of it. Cortese         arrived now at half-past nine o’clock so as to be ready for the
brought it down to Riseholme, I remember, as soon as he had          Mayor’s dictation of official correspondence at ten, and had
finished it, and dear Olga begged me to come and hear her            always got through this additional work by that time. Compli-
sing the great scene—I think she called it—and, oh, that ca-         mentary tickets in the front row were sent to Town Council-
cophonous evening! Ah! Eureka! Did you not say the date was          lors for Lucia’s inaugural lecture, with the request that they
May the twentieth? How providential! That’s the very evening         should be returned if the recipient found himself unable to
we have fixed for my lecture on Beethoven. Olga will under-          attend. Apart from these, the sale was very sluggish. Mr. John
stand how impossible it is to cancel that.”                          Gielgud could not attend the lecture on Shakespearian tech-
 “But that’s quite easily altered,” said Georgie. “You made          nique, and previous engagements prevented the Bishop and
out just the roughest schedule, and Benjy’s tiger-slaying is the     Sir Henry Wood from listening to the Padre on Free Will and
only date fixed. And think of hearing the gala performance           Lucia on Beethoven. But luckily the Hampshire Argus had
in London! Lucrezia’s had the hugest success in America and          already announced that they had received invitations.
Australia. And in Berlin and Paris.”                                  “Charming letters from them all, Georgie,” said Lucia, tearing
                                                                     them up, “and their evident disappointment at not being able
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                      E. F. Benson
                                                                     43
to come really touches me. And I don’t regret, far from it, that          uncomfortable, as if she knew something about that loss. But
apparently we shall not have very large audiences. A small                she replied in the most spirited manner.
audience is more intime; the personal touch is more quickly               “Wouldn’t be very wise of him,” she said. “Might take a lot
established. And now for my sleep-walking scene in the first              more of the fur off. Might hurt the dead tiger more than he
lecture. I should like to discuss that with you. I shall give that        hurt the live one.”
with Elizabethan realism.”
                                                                          “Very droll,” said Elizabeth. “But as the riding-whip vanished
“Not pyjamas?” asked Georgie, in an awestruck voice.                      so mysteriously in your house, there’s the end of it.”
“Certainly not: it would be a gross anachronism. But I shall               Thanks to Lucia’s prudent distribution of complimentary
have all the lights in the room extinguished. Night.”                     tickets, the room was very well filled at the inaugural lecture.
“Then they won’t see you,” said Georgie. “You would lose the              Georgie for a week past had been threatened with a nervous
personal touch.”                                                          collapse at the thought of taking the chair, but he had staved
                                                                          this off by patent medicines, physical exercises and breakfast
Lucia puzzled over this problem.
                                                                          in bed. Wearing his ruby-coloured dinner suit, he told the
“Ah! I have it!” she said. “An electric torch.”                           audience in a firm and audible voice that any introductory
“Wouldn’t that be an anachronism, too?” interrupted Georgie.              words from him were quite unnecessary, as they all knew the
                                                                          lecturer so well. He then revealed the astonishing fact that she
“Rather a pedantic criticism, Georgie,” said Lucia.                       was their beloved Mayor of Tilling, the woman whom he had
 “An electric torch: and as soon as the room is plunged in                the honour to call wife. She would now address them on the
darkness, I shall turn it on to my face. I shall advance slowly,          Technique of the Shakespearian Stage.
only my face visible suspended in the air, to the edge of the              Lucia first gave them a brief and lucid definition of Drama
platform. Eyes open I think: I believe sleep-walkers often have           as the audible and visible presentation of situations of hu-
their eyes open. Very wide, something like this, and unsee-               man woe or weal, based on and developing from those
ing. Filled with an expression of internal soul-horror. Have              dynamic individual forces which evoke the psychological
you half an hour to spare? Put the lights out, dear: I have my            clashes of temperament that give rise to action. This action
electric torch. Now.”                                                     (drama) being strictly dependent on the underlying motives
 As the day for the inaugural lecture drew near and the book-             which prompt it and on emotional stresses might be roughly
ings continued unsatisfactory except from the intime point of             summed up as Plot. It was important that her audience should
view, Lucia showered complimentary tickets right and left.                grasp that quite clearly. She went on to say that anything that
Grosvenor and Foljambe received them and Diva’s Janet. In                 distracts attention from Plot or from the psychology of which
fact, those who had purchased tickets felt defrauded, since               it is the logical outcome, hinders rather than helps Drama,
so many were to be had without even asking for them. This                 and therefore the modern craze for elaborate decorations and
discontent reached Lucia’s ears, and in an ecstasy of fair-               embellishments must be ruthlessly condemned. It was oth-
mindedness she paid Mrs. Simpson the sum of one shilling for              erwise in Shakespeare’s day. There was hardly any scenery
each complimentary ticket she had sent out. But even that did             for the setting of his masterpieces, and she ventured to put
not silence the carpings of Elizabeth.                                    forward a theory which had hitherto escaped the acumen of
                                                                          more erudite Shakespearian scholars than she. Shakespeare
“What it really comes to, Diva,” she said, “is that Worship is
                                                                          was a staunch upholder of this simplicity and had unmistak-
paying everybody to attend her lecture.”
                                                                          ably shewn that in Midsummer Night’s Dream. In that glori-
 “Nothing of the kind,” said Diva. “She is taking seats for her           ous masterpiece a play was chosen for the marriage festival
lecture, and giving them to her friends.”                                 at Athens, and the setting of it clearly proved Shakespeare’s
“Much the same thing,” said Elizabeth, “but we won’t argue.               conviction that the less distraction of scenery there was on the
Of course she’ll take the same number for Benjy’s lecture and             stage, the better for Drama. The moon appeared in this play
yours and all the others.”                                                within a play. Modern decor would have provided a lumi-
                                                                          nous disk moving slowly across the sky by some mechanical
 “Don’t see why, if, as you say, she’s only paying people to go           device. Not so Shakespeare. A man came on with a lantern,
to hers. Major Benjy can pay people to go to his.”                        and told them that his lantern was the moon and he the man
 Elizabeth softened at the thought of the puzzle that would               in the moon. There he was static and undistracting. Again the
rack the brains of Tilling when Benjy lectured.                           lovers Pyramus and Thisbe were separated by a wall. Modern
                                                                          decor would have furnished a convincing edifice covered with
 “The dear boy is quite excited about it,” she said. “He’s going          climbing roses. Not so Shakespeare. A man came out of the
to have his tiger skins hung up behind the platform to give               wings and said “I am the wall.” The lovers required a chink
local jungle-colour. He’s copied out his lecture twice already            to talk through. The wall held up his hand and parted his
and is thinking of having it typed. I daresay Worship would               fingers. Thus, in the guise of a jest the Master poured scorn on
allow Mrs. Simpson to do it for nothing to fill up her time a             elaborate scenery.
little. He read it to me: most dramatic. How I shuddered when
he told how he had hit the man-slayer across the nose while               “I will now,” said Lucia, “without dress or scenery of any
he seized his rifle. Such a pity he can’t whack that very tiger-          sort, give you an illustration of the technique of the Shake-
skin with the riding-whip he used then. He’s never quite got              spearian Stage. Lady Macbeth in the sleepwalking scene.”
over its loss.”                                                           Foljambe, previously instructed, was sitting by the switch-
Elizabeth eyed Diva narrowly and thought she looked very                  board, and on a sign from Georgie, plunged the hall in

                                                             Chapter VII
                                                                     44
darkness. Everybody thought that a fuse had gone. That fear               “I feel very tired too,” said Georgie.
was dispelled because Lucia, fumbling in the dark, could not          He followed Lucia upstairs, waiting while she practised the
find her electric torch, and Georgie called out “Turn them on         Lady Macbeth face in front of the mirror on the landing.
again, Foljambe.” Lucia found her torch and once more the
lights went out. Then the face of the Mayor sprang into vivid          Benjy’s lecture took place a week later. There was a palm
illumination, suspended against the blackness, and her open,          tree beside his reading desk and his three tiger-skins hung
sleep-walking eyes gleamed with soul- horror in the focused           on the wall behind. “Very effective, Georgie,” said Lucia, as
light. A difficult moment came when she made the pantomim-            they took their seats in the middle of the front row. “Quite the
ic washing of her hands for the beam went wobbling about all          Shakespearian tradition. It brings the jungle to us, the heat of
over the place and once fell full on Georgie’s face, which much       the Indian noon- day, the buzz of insects. I feel quite stifled.”
embarrassed him. He deftly took the torch from her and duly           … He marched on to the platform, carrying a rifle, and wear-
controlled its direction. At the end of the speech Foljambe           ing a pith helmet and saluted the audience. He described
restored the lights, and Lucia went on with her lecture.              himself as a plain old campaigner, who had seen a good deal
                                                                      of shikarri in his time, and read them a series of exciting
Owing to the absence of distinguished strangers she did not           adventures. Then (what a climax!) he took up from his desk a
give a supper-party afterwards, at which her subject could            cane riding-whip with a silver top and pointed to the third of
be further discussed and illuminated, but she was in a state          the skins.
of high elation herself as she and Georgie partook of a plain
supper alone.                                                          “And that old villain,” he said, “nearly prevented my having
                                                                      the honour to speak to you to-night. I had just sat down to a
 “From the first moment,” she said, waving a sandwich, “I             bit of tiffin, putting my rifle aside, when he was on me.”
knew that I was in touch with my audience and held them
in my hand. A delicious sensation of power and expan-                  He whisked round and gave the head of the tiger-skin a ter-
sion, Georgie; it is no use my trying to describe it to you, for      rific whack.
you have to experience it to understand it. I regret that the          “I slashed at him, just like that, with my riding-whip which
Hampshire Argus cannot have a verbatim report in its is-              I had in my hand, and that gave me the half-second I needed
sue this week. Mr. McConnell—how he enjoyed it—told me                to snatch up my rifle. I fired point-blank at his heart, and he
that it went to press to-night. I said I quite understood, and        rolled over dead. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what
should not think of asking him to hold it up. I gave him the          saved my life. It may interest you to see it, though it is famil-
full typescript for next week, and promised to let him have a         iar to some of you. I will pass it round.”
close-up photograph of Lady Macbeth; just my face with the
background blacked out. He thanked me most warmly. And I               He bowed to the applause and drank some whisky and a
thought, didn’t you, that I did the sleep-walking scene at the        little soda. Lucia took the riding-whip from him, and passed
right moment, just after I had been speaking of Shakespearian         it to Georgie, Georgie passed it to Diva. They all carefully
simplicity. A little earlier than I had meant, but I suddenly felt    examined the silver- top, and the initials B. F. were engraved
that it came there. I KNEW it came there.”                            on it. There could be no doubt of its genuineness and they all
                                                                      became very still and thoughtful, forbearing to look at each
“The very place for it,” said Georgie, vividly recalling her          other.
catechism after the Mayoral banquet.
                                                                       There was loud applause at the end of the lecture, and after
“And that little contretemps about the light going out before I       making rather a long speech, thanking the lecturer, Lucia
had found my torch—”                                                  turned to Diva.
“That wasn’t my fault,” said he. “You told me to signal to             “Come to lunch to-morrow,” she whispered. “Just us three.
Foljambe, when you said ‘sleep walking scene.’ That was my            I am utterly puzzled … Ah, Major Benjy, marvellous! What a
cue.”                                                                 treat! I have never been so thrilled. Dear Elizabeth, how proud
 “My dear, of course it wasn’t your fault,” said Lucia warmly.        you must be of him. He ought to have that lecture printed, not
“You were punctuality itself. I was only thinking how for-            a word, not a syllable altered, and read it to the Royal Zoo-
tunate that was. The audience knew what was coming, and               logical Society. They would make him an honorary member at
that made the suspense greater. The rows of upturned faces,           once.”
Georgie; the suspense; I could see the strain in their eyes.           Next day at a secret session in the garden-room Georgie and
And in the speech, I think I got, didn’t I, that veiled timbre in     Diva contributed their personal share in the strange history of
my voice suggestive of the unconscious physical mechanism,            the relic (Paddy’s being taken for granted, as no other suppo-
sinking to a strangled whisper at ‘Out, damned spot!’ That,           sition would fit the facts of the case) and thus the movements
I expect, was not quite original, for I now remember when I           of the silver cap were accounted for up to the moment of its
was quite a child being taken to see Ellen Terry in the part and      disappearance from Georgie’s possession.
she veiled her voice like that. A sub- conscious impression
coming to the surface.”                                                “I always kept it in my waistcoat pocket,” he concluded, “and
                                                                      one morning it couldn’t be found anywhere. You remember
She rose.                                                             that, don’t you, Lucia?”
“You must tell me more of what you thought to-morrow,                  A look of intense concentration dwelt in Lucia’s eyes: Georgie
dear,” she said, “for I must go to bed. The emotional strain          did not expect much from that, because it so often led to noth-
has quite worn me out, though it was well worth while. Mere           ing at all. Then she spoke in that veiled voice which had be-
mental or physical exertion—”                                         come rather common with her since the sleep-walking scene.
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                           E. F. Benson
                                                                    45
“Yes, yes,” she murmured. “It comes back to me. And the                  guileless prettiness of such early Italian artists as Botticelli,
evening before Elizabeth and Benjy had dined with us. Did it             Miss Irene Coles’s—” Georgie read no more but turned to the
drop out of your pocket, do you think, Georgie? … She and I              centre-page of pictures. There it was. Simultaneously there
came into the garden-room after dinner, and … and she asked              came a rap on his door, and Grosvenor’s hand, delicately
me to play to her, which is unusual. I am always unconscious             inserted, in case he had got up, held a copy of the Times.
of all else when I am playing …”                                         “Her Worship thought you might like to see the picture-page
Lucia dropped the veiled voice which was hard to keep up                 of the Times,” she said. “And could you spare her the Daily
and became very distinct.                                                Mirror, if it’s got it in.”
 “She sat all by herself at my table here,” she continued.                The transfer was effected. There again was Elizabeth on her
“What if she found it on the floor or somewhere? I seem to               oyster- shell being wafted by Benjy up the river to the quay
sense her doing that. And she had something on her mind                  at Tilling, and our Art Editor gave his most serious attention
when we played Bridge. She couldn’t attend at all, and she               to this arresting piece. He was not sure whether it was justifi-
suggested stopping before eleven, because she said I looked              able to parody a noble work of art in order to ridicule an age,
so tired, though I was never fresher. Certainly we never saw             which, in spite of its fantastic prudery, was distinguished
the silver cap again till last night.”                                   for achievement and progress. But no one could question
                                                                         the vigour, the daring, the exuberant vitality of this amazing
“Well that is ingenious,” said Diva, “and then I suppose they
                                                                         canvas. Technically—
had another cane fitted to it, and Benjy said it was the real
one. I do call that deceitful. How can we serve them out? Let’s           Georgie bounded out of bed. Thoughtful and suggestive
all think.”                                                              though this criticism was, it was also lengthy, and the need for
                                                                         discussion with Lucia as to the reactions of Tilling was more
They all thought. Lucia sat with her head on one side contem-
                                                                         immediate, especially since she had a committee-meeting at
plating the ceiling, as was her wont when listening to music.
                                                                         ten. He omitted to have his bath at all, and nearly forgot about
Then she supplied the music, too, and laughed in the silvery
                                                                         his toupée. She was already at breakfast when he got down,
ascending scale of an octave and a half.
                                                                         with the Daily Mirror propped up against the tea-pot in front
“Amichi,” she said. “If you will leave it to me, I think I can           of her, and seemed to continue aloud what she must have
arrange something that will puzzle Elizabeth. She and her ac-            been saying to herself.
complice have thought fit to try to puzzle us. I will contrive to
                                                                          “—and in my position, I must—good morning, Georgie—be
puzzle them.”
                                                                         extremely careful. She IS my Mayoress, and therefore, through
Diva glanced at the clock.                                               me, has an official position, which I am bound to uphold if it
“How scrumptious!” she said. “Do be quick and tell us, be-               is brought into ridicule. I should equally resent any ruthless
cause I must get back to help Janet.”                                    caricature of the Padre, as he is my chaplain. Of course you’ve
                                                                         seen the picture itself, Georgie, which, alas, I never did, and
 “Not quite complete yet,” answered Lucia. “A few finishing              it’s hard to form a reasoned judgment from a reduced repro-
touches. But trust me.”                                                  duction. Is it really like poor Elizabeth?”
 Diva trundled away down the hill at top-speed. A party of               “The image,” said Georgie. “You could tell it a hundred miles
clerical tourists were spending a day of pilgrimage in Tilling,          off. It’s the image of Benjy, too, But that thing in his hand,
and after being shewn round the church by the Padre were to              which looks so like the neck of a bottle is really the top of his
refresh themselves at ‘ye olde Tea-House.’ The Padre would               umbrella.”
have his tea provided gratis as was customary with Couri-
ers. She paused for a moment outside her house to admire                 “No! I thought it was a bottle,” said Lucia. “I’m glad of that.
the sign which quaint Irene had painted for her. There was               The other would have been a sad lack of taste.”
nothing nude about it. Queen Anne in full regalia was having             “Oh, it’s all a lack of taste,” said Georgie, “though I don’t
tea with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and decorum reigned.              quite feel the sadness. On the other hand it’s being hailed as a
Diva plunged down the kitchen-stairs, and peeped into the                masterpiece. That’ll sweeten it for them a bit.”
garden where the tulips were now in flower. She wondered
                                                                         Lucia held the paper up to get a longer focus, and Georgie got
which tulip it was.
                                                                         his tea.
As often happened in Tilling, affairs of sensational interest
                                                                          “A wonderful pose,” she said. “Really, there’s something ma-
overlapped. Georgie woke next morning to find Foljambe
                                                                         jestic and dominant about Elizabeth, which distinctly flatters
bringing in his early morning tea with the Daily Mirror.
                                                                         her. And look at Benjy with his cheeks puffed out, as when
“A picture this morning, sir, that’ll make you jump,” she said.          he’s declared three no trumps, and knows he can’t get them. A
“Lor’, what’ll happen?”                                                  boisterous wind evidently, such as often comes roaring up the
Off she went to fill his bath, and Georgie, still rather sleepy,         river. Waves tipped with foam. A slight want of perspective, I
began to look through the paper. On the third page was an                should have said, about the houses of Tilling … One can’t tell
article on the Royal Academy Exhibition, of which the Private            how Elizabeth will take it—”
View was to be held today.                                               “I should have thought one could make a good guess,” said
“The Picture of the Year,” said our Art Editor, “is already              Georgie.
determined. For daring realism, for withering satire of the so-          “But it’s something, as you say, to have inspired a master-
called Victorian age, for savage caricature of the simpering,            piece.”

                                                            Chapter VII
                                                                      46
 “Yes, but Irene’s real object was to be thoroughly nasty. The         Lucia still considered that the proper public line to take was
critics seem to have found in the picture a lot she didn’t intend      her sense of the insult to her Mayoress, though certainly Benjy
to put there.”                                                         seemed very cheerful.
 “Ah, but who can tell about the artist’s mind?” asked Lucia,          “I have,” she said indignantly. “Oh, Major Benjy, it is mon-
with a sudden attack of high-brow. “Did Messer Leonardo                strous! I was horrified: I should not have thought it of Irene.
really see in the face of La Gioconda all that our wonderful           And the Daily Mirror, too—”
Walter Pater found there? Does not the artist work in a sort of            “No, really?” interrupted Benjy. “I must get it.”
trance?”
                                                                        “Such a wanton insult to dear Elizabeth,” continued Lucia,
 “No; Irene wasn’t in a trance at all,” insisted Georgie. “Any-        “and, of course, to you up in the clouds. Horrified! I shall
thing but. And as for your feeling that because Elizabeth is           write to Elizabeth as soon as I get home to convey my sympa-
Mayoress you ought to resent it, that’s thoroughly inconsistent        thy and indignation.”
with your theory that Art’s got nothing to do with Life. But
I’ll go down to the High Street soon, and see what the general          “Don’t you bother!” cried Benjy. “Liz hasn’t been so bucked
feeling is. You’ll be late, dear, if you don’t go off to your meet-    up with anything for years. After all, to be the principal
ing at once. In fact, you’re late already.”                            feature in the Picture of the Year is a privilege that doesn’t fall
                                                                       to everybody. Such a leg up for our obscure little Tilling, too.
Lucia mounted her bicycle in a great hurry and set off for the         We’re going up to town next week to see it. Why, here’s Liz
Town Hall. With every stroke of her pedals she felt growing            herself.”
pangs of jealousy of Elizabeth. Why, oh why, had not Irene
painted her, the Mayor, the first woman who had ever been              Elizabeth kissed her hand to Lucia from the other side of the
Mayor of Tilling, being wafted up the river, with Georgie              street, and, waiting till Susan went ponderously by, tripped
blowing on her from the clouds?                                        across, and kissed her (Lucia’s) face.
 Such a picture would have had a far greater historical inter-          “What a red-letter day, dear!” she cried. “Quaint Irene
est, and she would not have resented the grossest caricature           suddenly becoming so world-wide, and your humble little
of herself if only she could have been the paramount figure in         Mayoress almost equally so. Benjy, it’s in the Daily Telegraph,
the Picture of the Year. The town in the background would be           too. You’d better get a copy of every morning paper. Pop in,
widely recognised as Tilling, and Lucia imagined the eager             and tell them to mend your riding-whip, while I send a tele-
comments of the crowd swarming round the masterpiece …                 gram of congratulation to Irene.—I should think Burlington
“Why that’s Tilling! We spent a week there this summer. Just           House, London, would find her now— and meet me at the
like! …” “And who can that woman be? Clearly a portrait” …             paper-shop. And do persuade Irene, Worship, to let us have
“Oh, that’s the Mayor, Lucia Pillson: she was pointed out to           the picture for our exhibition here, when the Academy’s over,
me. Lives in a lovely family house called Mallards” … “And             unless the Chantrey Bequest buys it straight away.”
the man in the clouds with the Vandyck beard and the red                Benjy went into the haberdasher’s to get the riding-whip
dinner-suit (what a colour!) must be her husband …”                    repaired. This meeting with him just here made Lucia’s errand
 “What fame!” thought Lucia with aching regret. “What illim-           much simpler. She followed him into the shop and became
itable, immortal réclame. What publicity to be stared at all day       completely absorbed in umbrellas till he went out again.
by excited crowds!” At this moment the Private View would              Then, with an eye on the door, she spoke to the shopman in a
be going on, and Duchesses and Archbishops and Cabinet                 confidential tone.
Ministers would soon be jostling to get a view of her, instead          “I want you,” she said, “to make me an exact copy of Major
of Elizabeth and Benjy! “I must instantly commission Irene to          Mapp- Flint’s pretty riding-whip. Silver top with the same ini-
paint my portrait,” she said to herself as she dismounted at           tials on it. Quite private, you understand: it’s a little surprise
the steps of the Town Hall. “A picture that tells a story I think.     for a friend. And send it, please, to me at Mallards House, as
A sort of biography. In my robes by the front door at Mallards         soon as it’s ready.”
with my hand on my bicycle.…”
                                                                        Lucia mounted her bicycle and rode thoughtfully home-
 She gave but scant attention to the proceedings at her Com-           wards. Since Elizabeth and Benjy both took this gross insult to
mittee, and mounting again rang the bell all the way down the          her Mayoress as the highest possible compliment, and longed
hill into the High Street on a secret errand to the haberdashery       to have quaint Irene’s libel on them exhibited here, there was
shop. By a curious coincidence she met Major Benjy on the              no need that she should make herself indignant or unhappy
threshold. He was carrying the reconstructed riding-whip and           for their sakes. Indeed, she understood their elation, and her
was in high elation.                                                   regret that Irene had not caricatured her instead of Elizabeth
“Good morning, your Worship,” he said. “Just come to have              grew very bitter: she would have borne it with a magnanimity
my riding-whip repaired. I gave my old man-eater such a                fully equal to their’s. It was a slight consolation to know that
swipe at my lecture two nights ago, that I cracked it, by Jove.”       the replica of the riding-whip was in hand.
 “Oh Major, what a pity!” said Lucia. “But it was almost worth          She went out into the garden-room where patient Mrs.
breaking it, wasn’t it? You produced such a dramatic sensa-            Simpson was waiting for her. There were invitations to be
tion.”                                                                 sent out for an afternoon party next week to view the beauties
                                                                       of Lucia’s spring- garden, for which she wanted to rouse the
“And there’s another sensation this morning,” chuckled                 envious admiration of her friends, and the list must be written
Benjy. “Have you seen the notice of the Royal Academy in the           out. Then there was a letter to Irene of warm congratulation
Times?”                                                                to be typed. Then the Committee of the Museum, of which
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                         E. F. Benson
                                                                    47
the Mayor was Chairman was to meet on Friday, and she gave                “No, Susan, gas,” she said. “And have you seen the reproduc-
Mrs. Simpson the key of the tin-box labelled “Museum”.                   tion of Irene’s picture in the Times? Mrs. Simpson, would you
 “Just look in it, Mrs. Simpson,” she said, “and see if there are        kindly bring the Times into the garden. You must stroll across
any papers I ought to glance through. A mountain of work, I              the lawn and have a peep at my daffodils in my giardino seg-
fear, to-day.”                                                           reto. Never have I had such a show. Those lovely lines ‘danc-
                                                                         ing with the daffodils’. How true! I saw you in the High Street
Grosvenor appeared.                                                      this morning, dear, on your tricycle. And such wallflowers;
“Could you see Mrs. Wyse for a moment?” she asked.                       they will be in fullest bloom for my party next week, to which
Lucia knitted her brows, and consulted her engagement-                   you and Mr. Wyse must come. And Benjy in the clouds; so
book.                                                                    like, but Georgie says it isn’t a bottle, but his umbrella. Tell me
                                                                         EXACTLY what you think of it all. So important that I should
“Yes, just for ten minutes,” she said. “Ask her to come out              know what Tilling feels.”
here.”
                                                                          Unable to withstand such a cataract of subjects, Susan could
Grosvenor went back into the house to fetch Susan, and si-               hardly say ‘burned feathers’ again. She showed a tendency to
multaneously Mrs. Simpson gave a shriek of horror.                       drift towards the garden-room on their return, but Lucia, like
“The corpse of a blue parakeet,” she cried, “and an awful                a powerful tug, edged her away from that dangerous shoal
smell.”                                                                  and towed her out to the front door of Mallards, where she
 Lucia sprang from her seat. She plucked Blue Birdie, exhaling           cast her adrift to propel her tricycle under her own steam.
disinfectant and decay, from the Museum box, and scudding                Then returning to the garden-room, she found that the admi-
across the room thrust it into the fire. She poked and battered          rable Mrs. Simpson had picked up a few more feathers, which
it down among the glowing embers, and even as she wrought                she had laid on Lucia’s blotting-pad.
she cursed herself for not having told Mrs. Simpson to leave             Lucia threw them into the fire and swept up some half-
it where it was and lock the Museum box again, but it was too            burned fragments from the hearth.
late for that. In that swift journey to cremation Blue Birdie had
                                                                         “The smell of gas seems quite gone, Mrs. Simpson,” she said.
dropped a plume or two, and from the fire came a vivid smell
                                                                         “No need, I think, to send for my town-surveyor. It is such a
of burned feathers. But she was just in time and had resumed
                                                                         pleasure to work with anyone who understands me as well as
her seat and taken up her pen as Susan came ponderously up
                                                                         you … Yes, the list for my garden-party.”
the steps into the garden-room.
“Good morning, dear,” said Lucia. “At my eternal tasks as                 The replica of the riding-whip was delivered, and looked
usual, but charmed to see you.”                                          identical. Lucia’s disposition of it was singular. After she had
                                                                         retired for the night, she tied it safely up among the foliage
 She rose in welcome, and to her horror saw a long blue tail-            of the Clematis Montana which grew thickly up to the sill of
feather (slightly tinged with red) on the carpet. She planted            her bedroom window. The silver top soon grew tarnished in
her foot upon it.                                                        this exposure, spiders spun threads about it, moisture dulled
 “Good morning,” said Susan. “What a horrid smell of burned              its varnished shaft, and it became a weathered object. “About
feathers.”                                                               ripe,” said Lucia to herself one morning, and rang up Eliza-
Lucia sniffed, still standing firm.                                      beth and Benjy, inviting them to tea at ye olde tea-house next
                                                                         day, with Bridge to follow. They had just returned from their
“I do smell something,” she said. “Gas, surely. I thought I              visit to London to see the Picture of the Year, and accepted
smelt it the other day. I must send for my town-surveyor. Do             with pleasure.
you not smell gas, Mrs. Simpson?”
                                                                          Before starting for Diva’s, Lucia took her umbrella up to her
Lucia focused on her secretary the full power of her gimlet-             bedroom, and subsequently carried it to the tea-room, arriv-
eye.                                                                     ing there ten minutes before the others. Diva was busy in the
“Certainly, gas,” said that loyal woman, locking the Museum              kitchen, and she looked into the card-room. Yes: there was the
box.                                                                     heavy cupboard with claw feet standing in the corner; perfect.
 “Most disagreeable,” said Lucia, advancing on Susan. “Let us            Her manoeuvres then comprised opening her umbrella and
go into the garden and have our little talk there. I know what           furling it again; and hearing Diva’s firm foot on the kitchen
you’ve come about: Irene’s picture. The Picture of the Year,             stairs she came softly back into the tea-room.
they say. Elizabeth is famous at last, and is skipping for joy. I         “Diva, WHAT a delicious smell!” she said. “Oh, I want eigh-
am so pleased for her sake.”                                             teen- penny teas. I came a few minutes early to tell you.”
“I should certainly have said burned feathers,” repeated                  “Reckoned on that,” said Diva. “The smell is waffles. I’ve
Susan.                                                                   been practising. Going to make waffles at my lecture, as an
 Dire speculations flitted through Lucia’s mind: would Susan’s           illustration, if I can do them over a spirit-lamp. Hand them
vague but retentive brain begin to grope after a connection be-          round to the front row. Good advertisement. Here are the oth-
tween burned feathers and her vanished bird? A concentration             ers.”
of force and volubility was required, and taking another step            The waffles were a greater success than Diva had anticipated,
forward on to another blue feather, she broke into a gabble of           and the compliments hardly made up for the consumption.
topics as she launched Susan, like a huge liner, down the slip           Then they adjourned to the card-room, and Lucia, leaning her
of the garden-room stairs.                                               umbrella against the wall let it slip behind the big cupboard.

                                                            Chapter VII
                                                                      48
 “So clumsy!” she said, “but never mind it now. We shall have              “But you’ve just dealt, dear,” cooed Lucia.
to move the cupboard afterwards. Cut? You and I, Georgie.                  “Haw, Haw. Well tried, Liz,” said Benjy.
Families. Happy families.”
                                                                       Elizabeth looked so deadly at Benjy’s gentle fun that at the
It was chatty Bridge at first, rich in agreeable conversation.         end of the hand Lucia loaded her with compliments.
 “We only got back from London yesterday,” said Elizabeth,             “Beautifully played, dear!” she said. “Did you notice, Geor-
dealing. “Such a rush, but we went to the Academy three                gie, how Elizabeth kept putting the lead with you? Masterly!”
times; one no trump.”
                                                                           Elizabeth was not to be appeased with that sort of blarney.
“Two spades,” said Georgie. “What did you think of the
Picture?”                                                              “Thank you, dear,” she said. “I’m sorry, Benjy: I ought to have
                                                                       put the lead with Worship, and taken another trick.”
“Such a crowd round it! We had to scriggle in.”
                                                                           Diva came in as they were finishing the last rubber.
 “And I’m blest if I don’t believe that they recognised Liz,” put
in Major Benjy. “A couple of women looked at her and then at           “Quite a lot of teas,” she said. “But they all come in so late
the picture and back again, and whispered together, by Jove.”          now. Hungrier, I suppose. Saves them supper. No more
                                                                       waffles for shilling teas. Not if I know it. Too popular.”
“I’m sure they recognised me at our second visit,” said
Elizabeth. “The crowd was thicker than ever, and we got quite           Lucia had won from the whole table, and with an indifferent
wedged in. Such glances and whisperings all round. Most                air she swept silver and copper into her bag without troubling
entertaining, wasn’t it, Benjy?”                                       to count it.
Lucia tried to cork up her bitterness, but failed.                      “I must be off,” she said. “I have pages of Borough expendi-
                                                                       ture to look through. Oh, my umbrella! I nearly forgot it.”
 “I AM glad you enjoyed it so much, dear,” she said. “How I
envy you your superb self-confidence. I should find such pub-          “Dear Worship,” asked Elizabeth. “Do tell me what that
licity quite insupportable. I should have scriggled out again at       means! Either you forget a thing, or you don’t.”
whatever cost.”                                                         “I let it slip behind your big cupboard, Diva,” said Lucia, not
 “Dear Worship, I don’t think you would if you ever found              taking the slightest notice of her Mayoress. “Catch hold of that
yourself in such a position,” said Elizabeth. “You would face          end, Georgie, and we’ll run it out from the wall.”
it. So brave!”                                                         “Permit me,” said Benjy, taking Lucia’s end. “Now then, with
 “If we’re playing Bridge, two spades was what I said. Ever so         a heave-ho, as they say in the sister service. One, two, three.”
long ago,” announced Georgie.                                           He gave a tremendous tug. The cupboard, not so heavy as it
“Oh, Mr. Georgie; apologies,” said Elizabeth. “I’m such a              looked, glided away from the wall with an interior rattle of
chatterbox. What do you bid, Benjy? Don’t be so slow.”                 crockery.
 “Two no trumps,” said Benjy. “We made our third visit dur-                “Oh, my things!” cried Diva. “Do be careful.”
ing lunch- time, when there were fewer people—”                        “Here’s your umbrella,” said Georgie. “Covered with dust …
 “Three spades,” said Lucia. “All I meant, dear Elizabeth, was         Why, what’s this? Major Benjy’s riding whip, isn’t it? Lost here
that it is sufficient for me to tackle my little bit of public ser-    ages ago. Well, that is queer!”
vice, quietly and humbly and obscurely—”                                   Diva simply snatched it from Georgie.
“So like you, dear,” retorted Elizabeth, “and I double three           “But it is!” she cried. “Initials, everything. Must have lain
spades. That’ll be a nice little bit for you to tackle quietly.”       here all this time. But at your lecture the other day Major—”
Lucia made no reply, but the pleasant atmosphere was now                   Lucia instantly interrupted her.
charged with perilous stuff, for on the one side the Mayor was
writhing with envy at the recognition of Elizabeth from the            “What a fortunate discovery!” she said. “How glad you will
crowds round the Picture of the Year, while the Mayoress was           be, Major, to get your precious relic back. Why it’s half-past
writhing with exasperation at Lucia’s pitiful assertion that she       seven! Good night everybody.”
shunned publicity.                                                         She and Georgie let themselves out into the street.
Lucia won the doubled contract and the game.                            “But you MUST tell me,” said he, as they walked briskly up
 “So there’s my little bit, Georgie,” she said, “and you played it     the hill. “I shall die if you don’t tell me. How did you do it?”
very carefully, though of course it was a sitter. I ought to have          “I? What do you mean?” asked the aggravating woman.
redoubled: forgive me.”
                                                                       “You’re too tarsome,” said Georgie crossly. “And it isn’t fair.
“Benjy, your finesse was idiotic,” said Elizabeth, palpably            Diva told you how she buried the silver cap, and I told you
wincing. “If you had played your ace, they’d have been two             how I dug it up, and you tell us nothing. Very miserly!”
down. Probably more.”
                                                                           Lucia was startled at the ill-humour in his voice.
“And what about your doubling?” asked Benjy. “And what
                                                                           “My dear, I was only teasing you—” she began.
about your original no-trump?”
                                                                       “Well it doesn’t amuse me to be teased,” he snapped at her.
“Thoroughly justified, both of them,” said Elizabeth, “if you
                                                                       “You’re like Elizabeth sometimes.”
hadn’t finessed. Cut to me, please, Worship.”
                                                                           “Georgie, what a monstrous thing to say to me! Of course, I’ll
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                           E. F. Benson
                                                                   49
tell you, and Diva, too. Ring her up and ask her to pop in after
dinner.”                                                                Chapter VIII
 She paused with her hand on the door of Mallards. “But nev-
er hint to the poor Mapp-Flints,” she said, “as Diva did just


                                                                        L
now, that the riding-whip Benjy used at his lecture couldn’t                    ucia, followed by Georgie, and preceded by an atten-
have been the real one. They knew that quite well, and they                     dant, swept along the corridor behind the boxes on
knew we know it. Much more excruciating for them NOT to                         the grand tier at Covent Garden Opera House. They
rub it in.”                                                             had dined early at their hotel and were in good time. She
                                                                        wore her seed-pearls in her hair, her gold Mayoral badge, like
                                                                        an Order, on her breast, and her gown was of a rich, glitter-
                                                                        ing russet hue like cloth of copper. A competent- looking lady,
                                                                        hovering about with a small note book and a pencil, hurried
                                                                        up to her as the attendant opened the door of the box.
                                                                        “Name, please,” he said to Lucia.
                                                                        “The Mayor of Tilling,” said Lucia, raising her voice for the
                                                                        benefit of the lady with the note book.
                                                                        He consulted his list.
                                                                        “No such name, ma’am,” he said. “Madam has given strict
                                                                        orders—”
                                                                        “Mr. and Mrs. Pillson,” suggested Georgie.
                                                                        “That’s all right, sir “; and in they went.
                                                                         The house was gleaming with tiaras and white shoulders,
                                                                        and loud with conversation. Lucia stood for a minute at the
                                                                        front of the box which was close to the stage, and nodded
                                                                        and smiled as she looked this way and that, as if recognising
                                                                        friends … But, oh, to think that she might have been recogn-
                                                                        ised, too, if only Irene had portrayed her in the Picture of the
                                                                        Year! They had been to see it this afternoon, and Georgie, also,
                                                                        had felt pangs of regret that it was not he with his Vandyck
                                                                        beard who sprawled windily among the clouds. But in spite
                                                                        of that he was very happy for in a few minutes now he would
                                                                        hear and see his adorable Olga again, and they were to lunch
                                                                        with her to-morrow at her hotel.
                                                                         A burst of applause hailed the appearance of Cortese, com-
                                                                        poser, librettist and, to-night, conductor of Lucrezia. Lucia
                                                                        waggled her hand at him. He certainly bowed in her direc-
                                                                        tion (for he was bowing in all directions), and she made up
                                                                        her mind to scrap her previous verdict on the opera and be
                                                                        enchanted with it.
                                                                         The Royal party unfortunately invisible from Lucia’s box
                                                                        arrived, and after the National Anthem the first slow notes of
                                                                        the overture wailed on the air.
                                                                         “Divine!” she whispered to Georgie. “How well I remember
                                                                        dear Signor Cortese playing it to me at Riseholme. I think he
                                                                        took it a shade faster … There! Lucrezia’s motif, or is it the
                                                                        Pope’s? Tragic splendour. The first composer in Europe.”
                                                                        If Georgie had not known Lucia so well, he would scarcely
                                                                        have believed his ears. On that frightful evening, three years
                                                                        ago, when Olga had asked her to come and hear “bits” of it,
                                                                        she had professed herself outraged at the hideous, modern
                                                                        stuff, but there were special circumstances on that occasion
                                                                        which conduced to pessimism. Lucia had let it be widely sup-
                                                                        posed that she talked Italian with ease and fluency, but when
                                                                        confronted with Cortese, it was painfully clear that she could
                                                                        not understand a word he said. An awful exposure … Now
                                                                        she was in a prominent box, guest of the prima donna, at this
                                                                        gala performance, she could not be called upon to talk to Cor-
                                                          Chapter VIII
                                                                    50
tese without annoying the audience very much, and she was            conscious of nothing but her. She outshone all the splendour,
fanatic in admiration. She pressed Georgie’s hand, emotion           and never more so than when, swathed in black, she followed
drowning utterance; she rose in her place at the end of Olga’s       her husband’s bier, and sang that lament—or was it a song of
great song in the first act, crying “Brava! Brava!” in the most      triumph?—”Amore misterioso, celeste, profondo.” … “I be-
correct Italian, and was convinced that she led the applause         lieve I’ve got a very passionate nature,” thought Georgie, “but
that followed.                                                       I’ve always crushed it.”
 During the course of the second act, the box was invaded by a        It was impossible to get to sleep, and wheeling out of bed,
large lady, clad in a magnificent tiara, but not much else, and a    he lit a cigarette and paced up and down his room. But it was
small man, who hid himself at the back. Lucia felt justly indig-     chilly, and putting on a smart blue knitted pullover he got
nant at this interruption, but softened when the box-attendant       back into bed again. Once more he jumped up; he had no ash-
appeared with another programme, and distinctly said “Your           tray, but the lid of his soap-dish would do, and he reviewed
Grace” to the large lady. That made a difference, and dur-           Life.
ing the interval Lucia talked very pleasantly to her (for when        “I know Tilling is very exciting,” he said to himself, “for
strangers were thrown together stiffness was ridiculous) and         extraordinary things are always happening, and I’m very
told her how she had heard her beloved Olga run through              comfortable there. But I’ve no independence. I’m devoted to
some of her part before the opera was produced, and that she         Lucia, but what with breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, as well
had prophesied a huge success for it. She was agonising to           as a great deal in between … And then how exasperating she
know what the large lady was the Grace of, but could scarcely        is as Mayor! What with her ceaseless jaw about her duties and
put so personal a question on such short acquaintance. She           position I get fed up. Those tin boxes with nothing in them!
did not seem a brilliant conversationalist, but stared rather        Mrs. Simpson every morning with nothing to do! I want a
fixedly at Georgie … At the end of the opera there was im-
                                                                     change. Sometimes I almost sympathise with Elizabeth, when
mense enthusiasm: Olga and Cortese were recalled again and           Lucia goes rolling along like the car of Juggernaut, squish-
again, and during these effusions, Her unidentified Grace and        squash, whoever comes in her way. And yet it’s she, I really
her companion left: Lucia presumed that they were husband            believe, who makes things happen, just because she is Lucia,
and wife as they took no notice of each other. She regretted         and I don’t know where we should be without her. Good gra-
their disappearance, but consoled herself with the reflection        cious, that’s the second cigarette I’ve smoked in bed, and I had
that their names would appear in the dazzling list of those          my full allowance before. Why didn’t I bring up my embroi-
who would be recorded in the press to-morrow as having               dery? That often makes me sleepy. I shall be fit for nothing
attended the first performance of Lucrezia. The competent            to-morrow, lying awake like this, and I must go shopping
female in the corridor would surely see to that.                     in the morning, and then we lunch with Olga, and catch the
 Georgie lay long awake that night. The music had excited            afternoon train back to That Hole. Damn everything!”
him, and, more than the music, Olga herself. What a voice,            Georgie felt better in the morning after two cups of very
what an exquisite face and presence, what an infinite charm!         hot tea brought him by Foljambe who had come up as their
He recalled his bachelor days at Riseholme, when Lucia had           joint maid. He read his paper, breakfasting in his room, as in
been undisputed Queen of that highly-cultured village and he         his comfortable bachelor days. There was a fervent notice of
her cavaliere servente, whose allegiance had been seriously          Lucrezia, but no indication, since there had been five Duch-
shaken by Olga’s advent. He really had been in love with her,        esses present, as to which their particular Grace was, who had
he thought, and the fact that she had a husband alive then,          rather embarrassed him by her fixed eye. But then Foljambe
to whom she was devoted, allowed a moral man like him                brought him another paper which Lucia wanted back. She
to indulge his emotions in complete security. It had thrilled        had marked it with a blue pencil, and there he read that the
him with daring joy to imagine that, had Olga been free, he          Duke and Duchess of Sheffield and the Mayor of Tilling had
would have asked her to marry him, but even in those flights         attended the opera in Miss Bracely’s box. That gave him great
of fancy he knew that her acceptance of him would have put           satisfaction, for all those folk who had looked at their box so
him in a panic. Since then, of course, he had been married           much would now feel sure that he was the Mayor of Tilling
himself, but his union with Lucia had not been formidable, as        … Then he went out alone for his shopping, as Lucia sent
they had agreed that no ardent tokens of affection were to mar       word that she had received some agenda for the next Council
their union. Marriage, in fact, with Lucia might be regarded         meeting, which she must study, and thoroughly enjoyed it. He
as a vow of celibacy. Now, after three years, the situation was      found some very pretty new ties and some nice underwear,
reversing itself in the oddest manner. Olga’s husband had            and he could linger by attractive windows, instead of going to
died and she was free, while his own marriage with Lucia             some improving exhibition which Lucia would certainly have
protected him. His high moral principles would never suffer          wished to do. Then in eager trepidation he went to the Ritz for
him to be unfaithful to his wife. “I am not that sort of man,”       lunch, and found that Lucia had not yet arrived. But there was
he said to himself. “I must go to sleep.”                            Olga in the lounge, who hailed him on a high soprano note,
He tossed and turned on his bed. Visions of Olga as he had           so that everybody knew that he was Georgie, and might have
seen her to-night floated behind his closed eyelids. Olga as a       guessed, from the timbre, that she was Olga.
mere girl at the fête of her infamous father Pope Alexander           “My dear, how nice to see you,” she cried. “But a beard,
VI: Olga at her marriage in the Sistine Chapel to the Duke of        Georgie! What does it mean? Tell me all about it. Where’s your
Biseglia: his murder in her presence by the hired bravos of          Lucia? She hasn’t divorced you already, I hope? And have a
His Holiness and her brother. The scenery was fantastically          cocktail? I insist, because it looks so bad for an elderly female
gorgeous (“not Shakespearian at all, Georgie,” Lucia had             to be drinking alone, and I am dying for one. And did you like
whispered to him), but when Olga was on the stage, he was
 Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                       E. F. Benson
                                                                   51
the opera last night? I thought I sang superbly; even Cortese           have I, Georgie, till Monday’s Council? I always try to keep
didn’t scold me. How I love being in stuffy old London again;           Saturdays free. No: I don’t think I have. I could come down
I’m off to Riseholme to-night for a week, and you must—Ah,              with Georgie, on Saturday morning, but we shall have to
here’s Lucia! We’ll go into lunch at once. I asked Cortese, but         leave again very early on Monday. Too tempting to refuse,
he can’t come in till afterwards. Only Poppy Sheffield is com-          dear Olga. The sweet place, and those busy days, or so they
ing, and she will probably arrive about tea-time. She’ll be ter-        seemed then, but now, by comparison, what a holiday!”
ribly taken up with Georgie, because she adores beards, and              Poppy appeared just as they had finished lunch, and Lucia
says they are getting so rare nowadays. Don’t be alarmed, my            was astonished to find that she had not the smallest idea that
lamb: she doesn’t want to touch them, but the sight of them             they had ever met before. When reminded, Poppy explained
refreshes her in some psychic manner. Oh, of course, she was            that when she went to hear music a total oblivion of all else
in your box last night. She hates music, and hears it only as a         seized her.
mortification of the flesh, of which she has plenty. Quite gaga,
but so harmless.”                                                       “Carried away,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m on my head or
                                                                        my heels.”
 Olga was a long time getting to her table, because she made
many greetings on the way, and Lucia began to hate her again.           “If you were carried away you’d be on your back,” said Olga.
She was too casual, keeping the Mayor of Tilling stand-                 “What do you want to eat?”
ing about like this, and Lucia, who had strong views about               “Dressed crab and plenty of black coffee,” said Poppy decid-
maquillage, was distressed to see how many women, Olga                  edly. “That’s what keeps me in perfect health.” She had just
included, were sadly made-up. And yet how marvellous to                 become conscious of Georgie, and had fixed her eye on his
thread her way through the crowded restaurant with the                  beard, when Cortese plunged into the restaurant and came,
prima donna, not waiting for a Duchess: if only some Tilling-           like a bore up the River Severn, to Olga’s table, loudly lament-
ites had been there to see! Per contra, it was rather familiar of       ing in Italian that he had not been able to come to lunch. He
Olga to put her hand on Georgie’s shoulder and shove him                kissed her hand, he kissed Poppy’s hand, and after a short
into his place. Lucia stored up in separate packets resentment          pause for recollection, he kissed Lucia’s hand.
and the deepest gratification.
                                                                         “Si, si,” he cried, “it is the lady who came to hear the first trial
Asparagus. Cold and very buttery. Olga picked up the sticks             of Lucrezia at your Riseholme, and spoke Italian with so pure
with her fingers and then openly sucked them. Lucia used a              an accent. Come sta, signora?” And he continued to prattle in
neat little holder which was beside her plate. Perhaps Olga             Italian.
did not know what it was for.
                                                                        Lucia had a horrid feeling that all this had happened before,
“And you and Georgie must come to Riseholme for the week-               and that in a moment it would be rediscovered that she could
end,” she said. “I get down to-night, so join me to-morrow.”            not speak Italian. Lunch, anyhow, was over, and she could say
Lucia shook her head.                                                   a reluctant farewell. She summoned up a few words in that
                                                                        abhorred tongue.
 “Too sweet of you,” she said, “but impossible, I’m afraid. So
many duties. To-morrow is Friday, isn’t it? Yes: a prize-giving          “Cara,” she said to Olga, “we must tear ourselves away. A
to- morrow afternoon, and something in the evening, I fancy.            rivederci, non e vero, dopo domani. But we must go to catch
Borough Bench on Monday at ten. One thing after another; no             our train. A poor hard-worked Mayor must get back to the call
end to them, day after day. It was only by the rarest chance I          of duty.”
was able to come up yesterday.”                                         “Oh, is he a Mayor?” asked Poppy with interest. “How very
 Georgie knew that this was utter rubbish. Lucia had not had a          distinguished.”
single municipal engagement for four days, and had spent her             There was no time to explain; it was better that Georgie
time in bicycling and sketching and playing Bridge. She just            should be temporarily enthroned in Poppy’s mind as Mayor,
wanted to impress Olga with the innumerable duties of her               rather than run any further risks, and Lucia threaded her way
position.                                                               through the narrow passage between the tables. After all she
“Too bad!” said Olga. “Georgie, you mustn’t let her work her-           had got plenty of material to work up into noble narrative at
self to death like this. But you’ll come, won’t you, if we can’t        Tilling. Georgie followed and slammed the door of the taxi
persuade her.”                                                          quite crossly.
Here was an opportunity for independent action. He strung               “I can’t think why you were in such a hurry,” he said. “I was
himself up to take it.                                                  enjoying myself, and we shall only be kicking our heels at the
                                                                        station.”
“Certainly. Delighted. I should adore to,” he said with em-
phasis.                                                                 “Better to run no risk of missing our train,” she said. “And we
                                                                        have to pick up Foljambe and our luggage.”
“Capital. That’s settled then. But you must come, too, Lucia.
How they would all love to see you again at Riseholme.”                 “Not at all,” said Georgie. “We particularly arranged that she
                                                                        should meet us with it at Victoria.”
 Lucia wanted to go, especially since Georgie would otherwise
go without her, and she would have been much disconcerted               “Georgie, how stupid of me!” said the shameless Lucia. “For-
if her refusal had been taken as final. She pressed two fingers         give me.”
to her forehead.                                                        Lucia found that she had no engagement for the next evening,
“Let me think!” she said. “I’ve nothing after Friday evening,           and got up a party for dinner and Bridge in order casually
                                                           Chapter VIII
                                                                      52
to disseminate these magnificent experiences. Mr. Wyse and                 “And then did you go out to supper?” asked Evie.
Diva, (Susan being indisposed) the Mapp-Flints and the Padre           “Ah no! Music takes too much out of me. Back to the hotel
and Evie were her guests. It rather surprised her that nobody          and so to bed, as Pepys says.”
asked any questions at dinner, about her visit to London, but,
had she only known it, Tilling had seen in the paper that she          “And next morning, Worship, after such an exciting eve-
and a Duke and Duchess had been in Olga’s box, and had                 ning?” asked Elizabeth.
entered into a fell conspiracy, for Lucia’s good, not to show          “Poor me! A bundle of agenda for the Council meeting on
the slightest curiosity about it. Thus, though her guests were         Monday. I had to slave at them until nearly lunch-time.”
starving for information, conversation at dinner had been
entirely confined to other topics, and whenever Lucia made                 “You and Mr Georgie in your hotel?” asked Diva.
a casual allusion to the opera, somebody spoke loudly about             “No: dear Olga insisted that we should lunch with her at the
something else. But when the ladies retired into the garden-           Ritz,” said Lucia in the slow drawling voice which she ad-
room the strain on their curiosity began to tell, and Lucia tried      opted when her audience were on tenterhooks. No party, just
again.                                                                 the four of us.”
 “So delightful to get back to peaceful Tilling,” she said, as if          “Who was the fourth?”
she had been away for thirty-six weeks instead of thirty-six
                                                                       “The Duchess. She was very late, just as she had been at the
hours, “though I fear it is not for long. London was such a
                                                                       opera. A positive obsession with her. So we didn’t wait.”
terrible rush. Of course the first thing we did was to go to the
Academy to see the Picture of the Year, dear Elizabeth.”                   Not waiting for a Duchess produced a stunning effect.
 That was crafty: Elizabeth could not help being interested in             Diva recovered first.
that.                                                                      “Good food?” she asked.
“And could you get near it, dear?” she asked.                           “Fair, I should have called it. Or do you mean Poppy’s food?
“Easily. Not such a great crowd. Technically I was a wee bit           How you will laugh! A dressed crab and oceans of black cof-
disappointed. Very vigorous, of course, and great bravura—”            fee. The only diet on which she feels really well.”
“What does that mean?” asked Diva.                                     “Sounds most indigestible,” said Diva. “What an odd sort of
                                                                       stomach. And then?”
 “How shall I say it? Dash, sensational effect, a too obvious
dexterity,” said Lucia, gesticulating like a painter doing bold         “How you all catechize me! Then Cortese came in. He is the
brush-work. “I should have liked more time to look at it, for          composer, I must explain, of Lucrezia, and conducted it. Ital-
Irene will long to know what I think about it, but we had to           ian, with all the vivaciousness of the South—”
dress and dine before the opera. Dear Olga had given us an             “So you had a good talk in Italian to him, dear,” said Eliza-
excellent box, a little too near the stage perhaps.”                   beth viciously.
It was more than flesh and blood could stand: the conspiracy            “Alas, no. We had to rush off almost immediately to catch our
of silence broke down.                                                 train. Hardly a word with him.”
“I saw in the paper that the Duke and Duchess of Sheffield             “What a pity!” said Elizabeth. “And just now you told us you
were there, too,” said Evie.                                           were not going to be here long. Gadding off again?”
“In the paper was it?” asked Lucia with an air of great                 “Alas, yes; though how ungrateful of me to say ‘alas’,” said
surprise. “How the press ferrets things out! He and Poppy              Lucia still drawling. “Dear Olga implored Georgie and me
Sheffield came in in the middle of the second act. I was rather        to spend the week-end with her at Riseholme. She would not
cross, I’m afraid, for I hate such interruptions.”                     take a refusal. It will be delicious to see the dear old place
Elizabeth was goaded into speech.                                      again. I shall make her sing to us. These great singers are al-
                                                                       ways at their best with a small intime sympathetic audience.”
“Most inconsiderate,” she said. “I hope you told her so, Wor-
ship.”                                                                 “And will there be some Duchesses there?” asked Elizabeth,
                                                                       unable to suppress her bitterness.
Lucia smiled indulgently.
                                                                       “Chi lo sa?” said Lucia with superb indifference. “Ah, here
 “Ah, people who aren’t REALLY musical—poor Poppy Shef-
                                                                       come the men. Let us get to our Bridge.”
field is not— have no idea of the pain they give. And what has
happened here since Georgie and I left?”                               The men, who were members of this conspiracy, had shewn
                                                                       a stronger self-control than the women, and had not asked
 “Seventeen to tea yesterday,” said Diva. “What was the opera
                                                                       Georgie a single question about high-life, but they knew now
like?”
                                                                       about his new ties. Evie could not resist saying in an aside to
 “Superb. Olga sang the great scene to me years ago and I              her husband:
confess I did not do it justice. A little modern for my classical
                                                                       “Fancy, Kenneth, the Duchess of Sheffield lives on dressed
taste, but a very great work. Very. And her voice is still mag-
                                                                       crab and black coffee.”
nificent; perhaps a little sign of forcing in the top register, but
then I am terribly critical.”                                          Who could resist such an alluring fragment? Certainly not the
                                                                       Padre.
The conspiracy of silence had become a cross-examination of
questions. These admissions were being forced from her.                    “Eh, that’s a singular diet,” he said, “and has Mistress Mayor

Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                             E. F. Benson
                                                                      53
been telling you a’ about it? An’ what does she do when                    Lucia tilted her head sideways, with a sidelong glance at
there’s no crab to be had?”                                                Olga, busy with a looking-glass and lipstick.
 From the eagerness in his voice, Lucia instantly guessed that             “Ah; I recollect. Her daughters,” she said.
the men had heard nothing, and were consumed with curios-
                                                                            “Yes, of course. They could tell you what she said if they
ity.
                                                                           were looking, but if they weren’t looking you had to guess,
“Enough of my silly tittle-tattle,” she said. “More important              like when somebody talks fast in a foreign language which
matters lie before us. Elizabeth, will you and the Padre and               you don’t know much of, and you make a shot at what he’s
Mr. Wyse play at my table?”                                                saying.”
 For a while cards overrode all other interests, but it was                Lucia gave him a gimlet-glance. But of course, Georgie
evident that the men were longing to know all that their vow               couldn’t have been thinking of her and the Italian crisis.
of self- control had hidden from them: first one and then
another, during the deals, alluded to shellfish and Borgias. But            “Their dear, funny little ways!” she said. “But everyone I
Lucia was adamant: they had certainly conspired to show no                 talked to was so eager to hear about Tilling and my mayoral
interest in the great events of the London visit, and they must            work, that I learned nothing about what was going on here.
be punished. But when the party broke up, Mr. Wyse insisted                How they besieged me with questions! What else, Georgie?”
on driving Diva back in the Royce, and plied her with ques-                “Well, the people who have got your house now have made a
tions, and Major Benjy and the Padre, by the time they got                 swimming bath in the garden and have lovely mixed bathing
home, knew as much as their wives.                                         parties.”
 Lucia and Georgie, with Grosvenor as maid (for it was only                Lucia repressed a pang of regret that she had never thought
fair that she should have her share in these magnificent excur-            of doing that, and uttered a shocked sort of noise.
sions) motored to Riseholme next morning. Lucia took among
                                                                           “Oh, what a sad desecration!” she said. “Where is it? In my
her luggage the tin box labelled “Housing,” in order to keep
                                                                           pleached alley, or in Perdita’s garden?”
abreast of municipal work, but in the hurry of departure
forget to put any municipal papers inside it. She would have               “In the pleached alley, and it’s a great success. I wish I’d
liked to take Mrs. Simpson as well, but Grosvenor occupied                 brought my bathing-suit.”
the seat next her chauffeur, and three inside would have been               “And do they keep up my tableaux and Elizabethan fêtes and
uncomfortable. Olga gave a garden-party in her honour in the               literary circles?” she asked.
afternoon, and Lucia was most gracious to all her old friends,
in the manner of a Dowager Queen who has somehow come                      “I didn’t hear anything about them, but there’s a great deal
into a far vaster kingdom, but who has a tender remembrance                going on. Very gay, and lots of people come down for week-
of her former subjects, however humble, and she had a kind                 ends from town.”
word for them all. After the party had dispersed, she and                  Lucia rose.
Georgie and Olga sat on in the garden, and her smiles were
touched with sadness.                                                      “And cocktail parties, I suppose,” she said. “Well, well, one
                                                                           must expect one’s traces to be removed by the hand of time.
“Such a joy to see all the dear, quaint folk again,” she said,             That wonderful sonnet of Shakespeare’s about it. Olga mia,
“but what a sad change has come over the place! Riseholme,                 will you excuse me till dinner-time? Some housing plans I
which in old days used to be seething with every sort of inter-            have got to study, or I shall never be able to face my Council
est, has become just like any other vegetating little village—”            on Monday.”
 “I don’t agree at all,” said Georgie loudly. “It’s seething still.        Lucia came down to dinner steeped in the supposed contents
Daisy Quantock’s got a French parlourmaid who’s an atheist,                of her tin box and with a troubled face.
and Mrs. Antrobus has learned the deaf and dumb alphabet,
as she’s got so deaf that the most expensive ear-trumpet isn’t              “Those riband-developments!” she said. “They form one of
any use to her. Everybody has been learning it, too, and when              the greatest problems I have to tackle.”
Mrs. Boucher gave a birthday party for her only last week,                 Olga looked utterly bewildered.
they all talked deaf and dumb to each other, so that Mrs.
Antrobus could understand what was being said. I call that                 “Ribands?” she asked. “Things in hats.”
marvellous manners.”                                                       Lucia gave a bright laugh.
The old flame flickered for a moment in Lucia’s breast.                     “Stupid of me not to explain, dear,” she said. “How could
“No!” she cried. “What else?”                                              you know? Building developments: dreadful hideous dwell-
                                                                           ings along the sweet country roads leading into Tilling. Red-
“I haven’t finished this yet,” said Georgie. “And they were
                                                                           brick villas instead of hedges of hawthorn and eglantine. It
all using their hands so much to talk, that they couldn’t get
                                                                           seems such desecration.”
on with their dinner, and it took an hour and a half, though it
was only four courses.”                                                     Georgie sighed. Lucia had already told him what she meant
                                                                           to say to her Council on Monday afternoon, and would assur-
“Georgie, how thrilling!” said Olga. “Go on.”
                                                                           edly tell him what she had said on Monday evening.
Georgie turned to the more sympathetic listener.
                                                                           “Caterpillars!” she cried with a sudden inspiration. “I shall
 “You see, they couldn’t talk fast, because they were only                 compare those lines of houses to caterpillars, hungry red
learning, but when Mrs. Antrobus replied, she was so quick,                caterpillars wriggling out across the marsh and devouring its
being an expert, that nobody except Piggie and Goosie—”                    verdant loveliness. A vivid metaphor like that is needed. But I
                                                             Chapter VIII
                                                                    54
know, dear Olga, that nothing I say to you will go any further.       Olga thought she could accompany herself and Lucia seated
My Councillors have a right to know my views before any-             herself on a sort of throne close beside her and resumed her
body else.”                                                          rapt expression, as Olga sang the “Ave” out of Lucrezia. That
                                                                     solemn strain seemed vaguely familiar to Lucia, but she could
“My lips are sealed,” said Olga.
                                                                     not place it. Was it Beethoven? Was it from Fidelio or from
 “And yet we must build these new houses,” said the Mayor,           Creation Hymn? Perhaps it was wiser only to admire with
putting both her elbows on the table and disregarding her            emotion without committing herself to the composer.
plate of chicken. “We must abolish the slums in Tilling, and
                                                                     “That wonderful old tune!” she said. “What a treat to hear it
that means building on the roads outside. Such a multiplicity
                                                                     again. Those great melodies are the very foundation-stone of
of conflicting interests.”
                                                                     music.”
“I suppose the work is tremendous,” said Olga.                           “But isn’t it the prayer in Lucrezia?” asked Georgie.
“Yes, I think we might call it tremendous, mightn’t we, Geor-            Lucia instantly remembered that it was.
gie?” asked Lucia.
                                                                     “Yes, of course it is, Georgie,” she said. “But in the plain-song
Georgie was feeling fearfully annoyed with her. She was only         mode. I expressed myself badly.”
putting it on in order to impress Olga, but the more fervently
                                                                     “She hadn’t the smallest idea what it was,” thought Olga,
he agreed, the sooner, it might be hoped, she would stop.
                                                                     “but she could wriggle out of a thumb-screw.” Then aloud:
“Overwhelming. Incessant,” he asserted.
                                                                      “Yes, that was Cortese’s intention,” she said. “He will be
The hope was vain.                                                   pleased to know you think he has caught it. By the way, he
“No, dear, not overwhelming,” she said, eating her chicken in        rang up just before dinner to ask if he and his wife might
a great hurry. “I am not overwhelmed by it. Working for oth-         come down to-morrow afternoon for the night. I sent a fervent
ers enlarges one’s capacity for work. For the sake of my dear        ‘yes’.”
Tilling I can undertake without undue fatigue, what would             “My dear, you spoil us!” said Lucia ecstatically. “That will be
otherwise render me a perfect wreck. Ich Dien. Of course I           too delightful.”
have to sacrifice other interests. My reading? I scarcely open a      In spite of her ecstasy, this was grave news, and as she went
book. My painting? I have done nothing since I made a sketch         to bed she pondered it. There would be Cortese, whose Eng-
of some gorgeous dahlias in the autumn, which Georgie                lish was very limited (though less circumscribed than her own
didn’t think too bad.”                                               Italian), there would be Olga, who, though she said she spoke
“Lovely,” said Georgie in a voice of wood.                           Italian atrociously, was fluent and understood it perfectly, and
                                                                     possibly Cortese’s wife knew no English at all. If she did not,
 “Thank you, dear. My music? I have hardly played a note. But
                                                                     conversation must be chiefly conducted in Italian, and Lucia’s
as you must know so well, dear Olga, music makes an imper-
                                                                     vivid imagination pictured Olga translating to her what they
ishable store of memories within one: morsels of Mozart: bits
                                                                     were all saying, and re-translating her replies to them. Then
of Beethoven all audible to the inward ear.”
                                                                     no doubt he would play to them, and she would have to guess
 “How well I remember you playing the slow movement of               whether he was playing Beethoven or Mozart or plain-song or
the Moonlight Sonata,” said Olga, seeking, like Georgie to           Cortese. It would be an evening full of hazards and humilia-
entice her away from Mayoral topics. But the effect of this was      tions. Better perhaps, in view of a pretended engagement on
appalling. Lucia assumed her rapt music-face, and with eyes          Monday morning, to leave on Sunday afternoon, before these
fixed on the ceiling, indicated slow triplets on the table cloth.    dangerous foreigners arrived. “If only I could bring myself to
Her fingers faltered, they recovered, and nobody could guess         say that I can neither speak nor understand Italian, and know
how long she would continue: probably to the end of the              nothing about music!” thought Lucia. “But I can’t after all
movement, and yet it seemed rude to interrupt this symbolic          these years. It’s wretched to run away like this, but I couldn’t
recital. But presently she sighed.                                   bear it.”
 “Naughty fingers,” she said, as if shaking the triplets off. “So     Georgie came down very late to breakfast. He had had
forgetful of them!”                                                  dreams of Olga trying through a song to his accompaniment.
                                                                     She stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders, and
 Somehow she had drained the life out of the others, but din-
                                                                     her face close to his. Then he began singing, too, and their
ner was over, and they moved into Olga’s music-room. The
                                                                     voices blended exquisitely.… Dressing was a festival with his
piano stood open, and Lucia, as if walking in sleep, like Lady
                                                                     tiled bathroom next door, and he debated as to which of his
Macbeth, glided on to the music stool. The naughty fingers
                                                                     new ties Olga would like best. Breakfast, Grosvenor had told
became much better, indeed they became as good as they had
                                                                     him, would be on the verandah, but it was such a warm morn-
ever been. She dwelt long on the last note of the famous slow
                                                                     ing there was no need for his cape.
movement, gazing wistfully up, and they all sighed, accord-
ing to the traditional usage when Lucia played the Moonlight.            The others were already down.
“Thank you, dear,” said Olga. “Perfect.”                             “Georgie, this will never do,” said Olga, as he came out. “Lu-
                                                                     cia says she must go back to Tilling this afternoon. Keep her in
Lucia suddenly sprang off the music-stool with a light laugh.        order. Tell her she shan’t.”
 “Better than I had feared,” she said, “but far from perfect.         “But what’s happened, Lucia?” he asked. “If we start early to-
And now, dear Olga, dare I? Might we? One little song. Shall I       morrow we shall be in heaps of time for your Council meet-
try to accompany you?”                                               ing.”
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                      E. F. Benson
                                                                   55
Lucia began to gabble.
 “I’m too wretched about it,” she said, “But when I went
                                                                        Chapter IX
upstairs last night, I looked into those papers again which I
brought down with me, and I find there is so much I must


                                                                        L
talk over with my Town Clerk if I am to be equipped for my                        ucia was in for a run of bad luck, and it began that
Council in the afternoon. You know what Monday morning is,                        very afternoon. Ten minutes before she started with
Georgie. I must not neglect my duties though I have to sacri-                     Grosvenor for Tilling, Cortese and his wife arrived.
fice my delicious evening here. I must be adamant.”                     The latter was English and knew even less Italian than she
                                                                        did. And Cortese brought with him the first act of his new op-
“Too sad,” said Olga. “But there’s no reason why you should             era. It was too late to change her plans and she drove off after
go, Georgie. I’ll drive you back tomorrow. My dear, what a              a most affectionate parting from Olga, whom she charged to
pretty tie!”                                                            come and stay at Tilling any time at a moment’s notice. Just a
 “I shall stop then,” said he. “I’ve nothing to do at Tilling. I        telephone message to say she was coming, and she could start
thought you’d like my tie.”                                             at once sure of the fondest welcome … But it was all most tire-
                                                                        some, for no doubt Cortese would run through the first act of
 Lucia had never contemplated this, and she did not like it.
                                                                        his opera to-night, and the linguistic panic which had caused
But having announced herself as adamant, she could not
                                                                        her to flee from Riseholme as from a plague-stricken village,
instantly turn to putty. Just one chance of getting him to come
                                                                        leaving her nearest and dearest there, had proved to be utterly
with her remained.
                                                                        foundationless.
“I shall have to take Grosvenor with me,” she said.
                                                                         For the present that was all she knew: had she known what
 Georgie pictured a strange maid bringing in his tea, and get-          was to occur half an hour after she had left, she would certain-
ting his bath ready, with the risk of her finding his toupée, and       ly have turned and gone back to the plague-stricken village
other aids to juvenility. He faced it: it was worth it.                 again, trusting to her unbounded ingenuity to devise some
“That doesn’t matter,” he replied. “I shall be able to manage           reason for her reappearance. A phone-call from the Duchess of
perfectly.”                                                             Sheffield came for Madame Cortese.
                                                                        “Poor mad Cousin Poppy,” she said. “What on earth can she
                                                                        want?”
                                                                         “Dressed crab,” screamed Olga after her as she went to the
                                                                        telephone, “Cortese, you darling, let’s have a go at your Diane
                                                                        de Poictiers after dinner. I had no idea you were near the end
                                                                        of the first act.”
                                                                         “Nor I also. It has come as smooth as margarine,” said Cor-
                                                                        tese, who had been enjoined by Madame to learn English with
                                                                        all speed, and never to dare to speak Italian in her presence.
                                                                        “And such an aria for you. When you hear it, you will jump
                                                                        for joy. I jump, you jumps, they jumpino. Dam’ good.”
                                                                        Madame returned from the telephone.
                                                                         “Poppy asked more questions in half a minute than were ever
                                                                        asked before in that time,” she said. “I took the first two or
                                                                        three and told her to wait. First, will we go to her awful old
                                                                        Castle to- morrow, to dine and stay the night. Second: who is
                                                                        here. Olga, I told her, and Cortese, and Mr. Pillson of Tilling.
                                                                        ‘Why, of course I know him,’ said Poppy. ‘He’s the Mayor of
                                                                        Tilling, and I met him at Lucrezia, and at lunch at the Ritz.
                                                                        Such a lovely beard’. Thirdly—”
                                                                        “But I’m not the Mayor of Tilling,” cried Georgie. “Lucia’s the
                                                                        Mayor of Tilling, and she hasn’t got a beard—”
                                                                        “Georgie, don’t be pedantic,” said Olga. “Evidently she
                                                                        means you—”
                                                                        “La Barba e mobile,” chanted Cortese. “Una barba per due.
                                                                        Scusi. Should say ‘A beard for two,’ my Dorothea.”
                                                                        “It isn’t mobile,” said Georgie, thinking about his toupée.
                                                                        “Of course it isn’t,” said Olga. “It’s a fine, natural beard. Well,
                                                                        what about Poppy? Let’s all go to-morrow afternoon.”
                                                                        “No: I must get back to Tilling,” said Georgie. “Lucia expects
                                                                        me—”

                                                               Chapter IX
                                                                    56
“Aha, you are a henpeck,” cried Cortese. “And I am also a            objection to his talking Italian, before she had become ada-
henpeck. Is it not so, my Dorothea?”                                 mant about returning to Tilling, and this was doubly bitter,
                                                                     because in that case she would have still been on the spot
 “You’re coming with us, Georgie,” said Olga. “Ring up Lucia
                                                                     when Poppy’s invitation arrived, and it might have been
in the morning and tell her so. Just like that. And tell Poppy
                                                                     possible (indeed, she would have made it possible) for the
that we’ll all four come, Dorothy. So that’s settled.”
                                                                     Deputy Mayor to take her place at the Council meeting to-day,
 Lucia, for all her chagrin, was thrilled at the news, when          at which her presence had been so imperative when she was
Georgie rang her up next morning. He laid special stress on          retreating before the Italians.
the Mayor of Tilling having been asked, for he felt sure she
                                                                      She began to wonder whether she could not manage to join
would enjoy that. Though it was agonizing to think what
                                                                     the Ducal party after all. There was actually very little busi-
she had missed by her precipitate departure yesterday, Lucia
                                                                     ness at the Council meeting; it would be over by half-past
cordially gave him leave to go to Sheffield Castle, for it was
                                                                     four, and if she started then she would be in time for dinner
something that Georgie should stay there, though not she, and
                                                                     at Sheffield Castle. Or perhaps it would be safer to telephone
she sent her love and regrets to Poppy. Then after presiding
                                                                     to the Deputy Mayor, asking him to take her place, as she
at the Borough Bench (which lasted exactly twenty seconds,
                                                                     had been called away unexpectedly. The Deputy Mayor very
as there were no cases) instead of conferring with her Town
                                                                     willingly consented. He hoped it was not bad news and was
Clerk, she hurried down to the High Street to release the news
                                                                     reassured. All that there remained was to ring up Sheffield
like a new film.
                                                                     Castle, and say that the Mayor of Tilling was delighted to
 “Back again, dear Worship,” cried Elizabeth, darting across         accept Her Grace’s invitation to dine and sleep, conveyed to
the street. “Pleasant visit?”                                        her Worship by Mr. Pillson. The answer was returned that the
 “Delicious,” said Lucia in the drawling voice. “Dear Risehol-       Mayor of Tilling was expected. “And just for a joke,” thought
me! How pleased they all were to see me. No party at Olga’s;         Lucia, “I won’t tell them at Riseholme that I’m coming. Such
just Cortese and his wife, très intime, but such music. I got        a lovely surprise for them, if I get there first. I can start soon
back last night to be ready for my duties to-day.”                   after lunch, and take it quietly.”
                                                                      She recollected, with a trivial pang of uneasiness, that she had
“And not Mr. Georgie?” asked Elizabeth.
                                                                     told Elizabeth that her duties at Tilling would have prevented
“No. I insisted that he should stop. Indeed, I don’t expect          her in any case from going to Sheffield Castle, but that did not
him till to-morrow, for he has just telephoned that Duchess          last long. She would live it down or deny having said it, and
Poppy—a cousin of Madame Cortese—asked the whole lot of              she went into the garden-room to release Mrs. Simpson, and,
us to go over to Sheffield to-day to dine and sleep. Such short      at the same time, to provide for the propagation of the tidings
notice, and impossible for me, of course, with my Council            that she was going to her Duchess.
meeting this afternoon. The dear thing cannot realise that one
                                                                      “I shall not attend the Council meeting this afternoon, Mrs.
has duties which must not be thrown over.”
                                                                     Simpson,” she said, “as there’s nothing of the slightest im-
 “What a pity. So disappointing for you, dear,” said Elizabeth,      portance. It will be a mere formality, so I am playing truant.
writhing under a sudden spasm of colic of the mind. “But             I shall be leaving Tilling after lunch, to dine and sleep at the
Sheffield’s a long way to go for one night. Does she live in the     Duchess of Sheffield’s, at Sheffield Castle. A moat and I think
town?”                                                               a drawbridge. Ring me up there if anything occurs that I must
Lucia emitted the musical trill of merriment.                        deal with personally, and I will give it my attention. There
                                                                     seems nothing that need detain you any more to-day. One of
“No, it’s Sheffield Castle,” she said. “Not a long drive from        our rare holidays.”
Riseholme, in one of Olga’s Daimlers. A Norman tower. A
                                                                     On her way home Mrs. Simpson met Diva’s Janet, and told
moat. It was in Country Life not long ago.… Good morning,
                                                                     her the sumptuous news. Janet scuttled home and plunged
Padre.”
                                                                     down into the kitchen to tell her mistress who was making
“An’ where’s your guid man?” asked the Padre.                        buns. She had already heard about Georgie from Elizabeth.
 Lucia considered whether she should repeat the great news.           “Don’t believe a word of it,” said Diva. “You’ve mixed it up,
But it was more exalted not to, especially since the dissemina-      Janet. It’s Mr. Georgie, if anybody, who’s going to Sheffield
tion of it, now that Elizabeth knew, was as certain as if she had    Castle.”
it proclaimed by the Town Crier.                                     “Beg your pardon, ma’am,” said Janet hotly, “but I’ve mixed
“He joins me to-morrow,” she said. “Any news here?”                  nothing up. Mrs. Simpson told me direct that the Mayor was
                                                                     going, and talking of mixing you’d better mix twice that lot of
 “Such a lovely sermon from Reverence yesterday,” said Eliza-
                                                                     currants, if it’s going to be buns.”
beth, for the relief of her colic. “All about riches and position
in the world being only dross. I wish you could have heard it,       The telephone bell rang in the tea-room above, and Diva flew
Worship.”                                                            up the kitchen-stairs, scattering flour.
 Lucia could afford to smile at this pitiable thrust, and pro-       “Diva, is that Diva?” said Lucia’s voice. “My memory is
ceeded with her shopping, not ordering any special delicacies        shocking; did I say I would pop in for tea to-day?”
for herself because Georgie would be dining with a Duchess.              “No. Why?” said Diva.
She felt that fate had not been very kind to her personally,
                                                                      “That is all right then,” said Lucia. “I feared that I might have
though most thoughtful for Georgie. It was cruel that she had
                                                                     to put it off. I’m joining Georgie on a one night’s visit to a
not known the nationality of Cortese’s wife, and her rooted
                                                                     friend. I couldn’t get out of it. Back to-morrow.”
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                            E. F. Benson
                                                                       57
Diva replaced the receiver.                                                  “Just off, Diva,” she said. “Duchess Poppy not very well, so
                                                                            I’ve just heard.”
“Janet, you’re quite right,” she called down the kitchen stairs.
“Just finish the buns. Must go out and tell people.”                        “No! Crab?” asked Diva.
 Lucia’s motor came round after lunch. Foljambe (it was Fol-                 “Apparently, but not tinned, and there is no need for me to
jambe’s turn, and Georgie felt more comfortable with her) was               feel anxious. She insisted on my coming just the same. Such a
waiting in the hall with the jewel-case and a camera, and Lu-               lovely drive in front of me. Taking some work with me.”
cia was getting the “Slum Clearance” tin box from the garden-                Lucia pulled up the window again and pinched her finger
room to take with her, when the telephone-bell rang. She had                but she hardly regarded that for there was so much to think
a faint presage of coming disaster as she said, “Who is it?” in             about. Olga at Riseholme, for instance, must have been
as steady a voice as she could command.                                     informed by now that the party was off, and yet Georgie
“Sheffield Castle speaking. Is that the Mayor of Tilling.”                  had not rung up to say that he would be returning to Tilling
                                                                            to-day. A disagreeable notion flitted through her mind that,
“Yes.”
                                                                            having got leave to go to Sheffield Castle, he now meant to
 “Her Grace’s maid speaking, your Worship. Her Grace par-                   stay another night with Olga, without telling her, and it was
took of her usual luncheon to-day—”                                         with a certain relief that she remembered the disregarded tele-
“Dressed crab?” asked Lucia in parenthesis.                                 phone call which had hurried her departure. Very likely that
                                                                            was Georgie ringing up to tell her that he was coming back to
“Yes, your Worship, and was taken with internal pains.”                     Tilling to-day. It would be a sad surprise for him not to find
“I am terribly sorry,” said Lucia. “Was it tinned?”                         her there.
“Fresh, I understand, and the party is put off.”                             Her route lay through Riseholme, and passing along the edge
                                                                            of the village green, she kept a sharp look-out for familiar
Lucia gave a hollow moan into the receiver, and Her Grace’s
                                                                            figures. She saw Piggie and Goosie with Mrs. Antrobus: they
maid offered consolation.
                                                                            were all three gesticulating with their hands in a manner that
“No anxiety at all, your Worship,” she said, “but she thought               seemed very odd until she remembered that they must be
she wouldn’t feel up to a party.”                                           speaking in deaf and dumb alphabet: she saw a very slim el-
 The disaster evoked in Lucia the exercise of her utmost bril-              egant young woman whom she conjectured to be Daisy Quan-
liance. There was such a fearful lot at stake over this petty               tock’s atheistic French maid, but there was no sign of Georgie
indigestion.                                                                or Olga. She debated a moment as to whether she should call
                                                                            at Olga’s to find out for certain that he had gone, but dis-
 “I don’t mind an atom about the dislocation of my plans,” she              missed the idea as implying a groundless suspicion. Beyond
said, “but I am a little anxious about her dear Grace. I quite              doubt the telephone call which she had so narrowly evaded
understand about the party being put off; so wise to spare                  was to say that he had done so, and she steadily backed away
her fatigue. It would be such a relief if I might come just to              from the familiar scene in order to avoid seeing him if he was
reassure myself. I was on the point of starting, my maid, my                still here … Then came less familiar country, a belt of woods,
luggage all ready. I would not be any trouble. My maid would                a stretch of heathery upland glowing in the afternoon sun,
bring me a tray instead of dinner. Is it possible?”                         positively demanding to be sketched in water-colours, and
“I’ll see,” said her Grace’s maid, touched by this devotion.                presently a turning with a sign-post “To Sheffield Bottom”.
“Hold on.”                                                                  Trees again, a small village of grey stone houses, and facing
                                                                            her a great castellated wall with a tower above a gateway and
She held on; she held on, it seemed, as for life itself, till, after        a bridge over a moat leading to it. Lucia stopped the car and
an interminable interval the reply came.                                    got out, camera in hand.
“Her Grace would be very happy to see the Mayor of Tilling,                  “What a noble façade,” she said to herself. “I wonder if my
but she’s putting off the rest of the party,” said the angelic              room will be in that tower.”
voice.
                                                                            She took a couple of photographs, and getting back into the
“Thank you, thank you,” called Lucia. “So good of her. I will               car, she passed over the bridge and through the gateway.
start at once.”
                                                                             Inside lay a paved courtyard in a state of indescribable
 She picked up Slum Clearance and went into the house only                  neglect. Weeds sprouted between the stones, a jungle of ne-
to be met by a fresh ringing of the telephone in the hall. A                glected flower- beds lay below the windows, here and there
panic seized her lest Poppy should have changed her mind.                   were moss-covered stone seats. On one of these close beside
 “Let it ring, Grosvenor,” she said. “Don’t answer it at all. Get           the huge discoloured door of blistered paint sat Poppy with
in, Foljambe. Be quick.”                                                    her mouth open, fast asleep. As Lucia stepped out, she awoke,
                                                                            and looked at her with a dazed expression of strong disfavour.
She leaped into the car.
                                                                            “Who are you?” asked Poppy.
“Drive on, Chapman,” she called.
                                                                             “Dear Duchess, so good of you to let me come,” said Lucia,
 The car rocked its way down to the High Street, and Lucia
                                                                            thinking that she was only half-awake. “Lucia Pillson, the
let down the window and looked out, in case there were any
                                                                            Mayor of Tilling.”
friends about. There was Diva at the corner, and she stopped
the car.                                                                    “That you aren’t,” said Poppy. “It’s a man, and he’s got a
                                                                            beard.”
                                                                Chapter IX
                                                                    58
Lucia laughed brightly.                                              heroically determined, “in all essentials. I shall say that Pop-
                                                                     py’s maid told me that I, the Mayor of Tilling was expected.
“Ah, you’re thinking of my husband,” she said. “Such a vivid
                                                                     That, though the party was abandoned, she still wanted me to
description of him. It fits him exactly. But I’m the Mayor. We
                                                                     come. That I found her asleep in a weedy courtyard, looking
met at dear Olga’s opera-box, and at the Ritz next day.”
                                                                     ghastly. That she evidently didn’t feel up to entertaining me,
 Poppy gave a great yawn, and sat silent, assimilating this          but insisted that I should have tea. That I took photographs
information.                                                         all over the place. All gospel truth, and no necessity for saying
 “I’m afraid there’s been a complete muddle,” she said. “I           anything about that incredible mistake of hers in thinking that
thought it was he who was coming. You see I was much flat-           Georgie was the Mayor of Tilling.”
tered at his eagerness to spend a quiet evening with me and              She tapped on the window.
my stomach-ache, and so I said yes. No designs on him of any
                                                                     “We’ll just have dinner at the Ambermere Arms, at Risehol-
kind I assure you. All clean as a whistle: he’d have been as
                                                                     me, Chapman,” she called, “and then go back to Tilling.”
safe with me as with his grandmother, if she’s still alive. My
husband’s away, and I just wanted a pleasant companion. And           It was about half-past ten when Lucia’s car drew up at the
to think that it was you all the while. That never entered my        door of Mallards. She could scarcely believe that it was still
head. Fancy!”                                                        the same day as that on which she had awoke here, regret-
                                                                     ful that she had fled from Riseholme on a false alarm, had
It did not require a mind of Lucia’s penetrative power to
                                                                     swanked about Georgie staying at Sheffield Castle, had
perceive that Poppy did not want her, and did not intend that
                                                                     shirked the Council meeting to which duty had called her,
she should stop. Her next remarks removed any possibility of
                                                                     had wangled an invitation to the Castle herself, had stayed
doubt.
                                                                     there for quite three quarters of an hour, and had dined at
 “But you’ll have some tea first, WON’T you?” she asked. “In-        Riseholme. “Quite like that huge horrid book by Mr. James
deed I insist on your having some tea unless you prefer coffee.      Joyce, which all happens in one day,” she reflected, as she
If you ring the door-bell, somebody will probably come. Oh,          stepped out of the car.
I see you’ve got a camera. Do take some photographs. Would
                                                                      Looking up, she saw that the garden-room was lit, and simul-
you like to begin with me, though I’m not looking my best.”
                                                                     taneously she heard the piano: Georgie therefore must have
 In spite of the nightmarish quality of the situation, Lucia kept    come home. Surely (this time) she recognised the tune: it was
her head, and it was something to be given tea and to take           the prayer in Lucrezia. He was playing that stormy introduc-
photographs. Perhaps there was a scoop here, if she handled          tion with absolute mastery, and he must be playing it by heart,
it properly, and first she photographed Poppy and the dismal         for he could not have the score, nor, if he had, could he have
courtyard, and then went to Poppy’s bedroom to tidy herself          read it. And then that unmistakeable soprano voice (though
for tea and snapped her washing-stand and the corner of her          a little forced in the top register) began to sing. The wireless?
Elizabethan bed. After tea Poppy took her to the dining-room         Was Olga singing Lucrezia in London to-night? Impossible;
and the gaunt picture gallery and through a series of decayed        for only a few hours ago during this interminable day, she
drawing-rooms, and all the time Lucia babbled rapturous              was engaged to dine and sleep at Poppy’s Castle. Besides, if
comments.                                                            this was relayed from Covent Garden, the orchestra, not the
 “Magnificent tapestry,” she said, “ah, and a glimpse of the         piano, would be accompanying her. Olga must be singing in
Park from the window. Would you stand there, Duchess,                the garden-room, and Georgie must be here, and nobody else
looking out with your dog on the window-seat? What a little          could be here … There seemed to be material for another huge
love! Perfect. And this noble hall: the panelling by that lovely     horrid book by Mr. James Joyce before the day was done.
oriel window would make a lovely picture. And that refectory          “I shall be perfectly calm and ladylike whatever happens,”
table.”                                                              thought Lucia, and concentrating all her power on this genteel
 But now Poppy had had enough, and she walked firmly to              feat she passed through the hall and went out to the garden-
the front- door and shook hands.                                     room. But before entering, she paused, for in her reverence for
                                                                     Art, she felt she could not interrupt so superb a performance:
 “Charmed to have seen you,” she said, “though I’ve no head          Olga had never sung so gloriously as now when she was
for names. You will have a pleasant drive home on this lovely        singing to Georgie all alone.… She perched on the final note
evening. Goodbye, or perhaps au revoir.”                             pianissimo. She held it with gradual crescendo till she was
“That would be much nicer,” said Lucia, cordial to the last.         singing fortissimo. She ceased, and it was as if a great white
                                                                     flame had been blown out.
 She drove out of the gateway she had entered three quarters
of an hour before, and stopped the car to think out her plans.        Lucia opened the door. Georgie was sitting in the window:
Her first idea was to spend the night at the Ambermere Arms          his piece of needle-work had dropped from his hand, and he
at Riseholme, and return to Tilling next morning laden with          was gazing at the singer. “Too marvellous,” he began, think-
undeveloped photographs of Sheffield Castle and Poppy, hav-          ing that Grosvenor was coming in with drinks. Then, by some
ing presumably spent the night there. But that was risky: it         sixth sense, he knew it wasn’t Grosvenor, and turning, he saw
could hardly help leaking out through Foljambe that she had          his wife.
done nothing of the sort, and the exposure, coupled with the          In that moment he went through a selection of emotions
loss of prestige, would be infinitely painful. “I must think of      that fully equalled hers. The first was blank consternation. A
something better that that,” she said to herself, and suddenly       sense of baffled gallantry succeeded, and was followed by an
a great illumination shone on her. “I shall tell the truth,” she     overwhelming thankfulness that it was baffled. All evening
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                        E. F. Benson
                                                                    59
he had been imagining himself delightfully in love with Olga,            evidently she was far from well, and I saw she was not up to
but had been tormented by the uneasy thought that any man                entertaining me. So I just had tea; she insisted on that, and
of spirit would make some slight allusion to her magnetic                she took me round the Castle and made me snap a quantity
charm. That would be a most perilous proceeding. He rev-                 of photographs. Herself, her bedroom, the gallery, that noble
elled in the feeling that he was in love with her, but to inform         oriel window in the hall. I must remember to send her prints.
her of that might be supposed to lead to some small practical            A delicious hour or two, and then I left her. I think my visit
demonstration of his passion, and the thought made him feel              had done her good. She seemed brighter. Then a snack at the
cold with apprehension. She might respond (it was not likely             Ambermere Arms; I saw your house was dark, dear Olga, or
but it was possible, for he had lately been reading a book by a          I should have popped in. And here we are. That lovely prayer
very clever writer, which showed how lightly ladies in artistic          from Lucrezia to welcome me. I waited entranced on the door-
professions, take an adorer’s caresses), and he was quite con-           step till it was over.”
vinced that he was no good at that sort of thing. On the other            It was only by strong and sustained effort that Olga re-
hand she might snub him, and that would wound his tender-                strained herself from howling with laughter. She hadn’t been
est sensibilities. Whatever happened, in fact, it would entirely         singing the prayer from Lucrezia this time, but Les feux
mar their lovely evening. Taking it all in all, he had never been        magiques, by Berlioz; Lucia seemed quite unable—though
so glad to see Lucia.                                                    of course she had been an agitated listener—to recognise
Having pierced him with her eye, she turned her head calmly              the prayer when she heard it. But she was really a wonder-
and gracefully towards Olga.                                             ful woman. Who but she would have had the genius to take
                                                                         advantage of Poppy’s delusion that Georgie was the Mayor of
“Such a surprise!” she said. “A delightful one, of course. And
                                                                         Tilling? Then what about Lucia’s swift return from the Castle?
you, no doubt, are equally surprised to see me.”
                                                                         Without doubt Poppy had sent her away when she saw her
Lucia was being such a perfect lady that Olga quaked and                 female, beardless guest, and the clever creature had made out
quivered with suppressed laughter.                                       that it was she who had withdrawn as Poppy was so unwell,
“Georgie, explain at once,” she said. “It’s the most wonderful           with a gallery of photographs to prove she had been there.
muddle that ever happened.”                                              Then she recalled Lucia’s face when she entered the garden-
                                                                         room a few minutes ago, the face of a perfect lady who,
 “Well, it’s like this,” said Georgie carefully. “As I telephoned        unexpectedly returns home to find a wanton woman, bent on
you this morning, we were all invited to go to Poppy’s for the           seduction, alone with her husband. Or was Georgie’s evident
night. Then she was taken ill after lunch and put us off. So I           relief at her advent funnier still? Impossible to decide, but she
rang up in order to tell you that I was coming back here and             must not laugh till she could bury her face in her pillow. Lucia
bringing Olga. You told her to propose herself whenever she              had a few sandwiches to refresh her after her drive, and they
felt inclined, and just start—”                                          went up to bed. The two women kissed each other affection-
Lucia bestowed a polite bow on Olga.                                     ately. Nobody kissed Georgie.
“Quite true,” she said. “But I never received that message.               Tilling next morning, unaware of Lucia’s return, soon began
Oh—”                                                                     to sprout with a crop of conjectures which, like mushrooms,
                                                                         sprang up all over the High Street. Before doing any shopping
 “I know you didn’t,” said Georgie. “I couldn’t get any answer.
                                                                         at all, Elizabeth rushed into Diva’s tea-shop to obtain confir-
But I knew you would be delighted to see her, and when we
                                                                         mation that Diva had actually seen Lucia driving away with
got here not long before dinner, Grosvenor said you’d gone to
                                                                         Foljambe and luggage on the previous afternoon en route for
dine and sleep at Poppy’s. Why didn’t you answer my tele-
                                                                         Sheffield Castle.
phone? And why didn’t you tell us you were going away? In
fact, what about you?”                                                   “Certainly I did,” said Diva. “Why?”
 During this brief but convincing narrative, the thwarted Muse           Elizabeth contracted her brows in a spasm of moral anguish.
of Tragedy picked up her skirts and fled. Lucia gave a little            “I wish I could believe,” she said, “that it was all a blind,
trill of happy laughter.                                                 and that Worship didn’t go to Sheffield Castle at all, but only
 “Too extraordinary,” she said. “A comedy of errors. Georgie,            wanted to make us think so, and returned home after a short
you told me this morning, very distinctly, that Poppy had                drive by another route. Deceitful though that would be, it
invited the Mayor of Tilling. Very well. I found that there              would be far, far better than what I fear may have happened.”
was nothing that required my pretence at the Council meet-               “I suppose you’re nosing out some false scent as usual,” said
ing, and I rang up Sheffield Cattle to say I could manage to             Diva. “Get on.”
get away. I was told that I was expected. Then just as I was
starting there came a message that poor Poppy was ill and the             Elizabeth made a feint of walking towards the door at this
party was off.”                                                          rude speech, but gave it up.

Lucia paused a moment to review her facts as already re-                  “It’s too terrible, Diva,” she said. “Yesterday evening, it might
hearsed, and resumed in her superior, drawling voice.                    have been about half-past six, I was walking up the street to-
                                                                         wards Mallards. A motor passed me, laden with luggage, and
 “I felt a little uneasy about her,” she said, “and as I had no          it stopped there.”
further engagement this afternoon, I suggested that though
the party was off, I would run over—the motor was actually               “So I suppose you stopped, too,” said Diva.
at the door— and stay the night. She said she would be so                “—and out of it got Mr. Georgie and a big, handsome—yes,
happy to see me. She gave me such a pleasant welcome, but                she was very handsome—woman, though, oh, so common.
                                                             Chapter IX
                                                                       60
She stood on the doorstep a minute looking round, and sang              sure I hope she won’t,” thought Diva, “but it wouldn’t be bad
out, ‘Georgino! How divino!’ Such a screech! I judge so much            for her to be taken down a peg or two, though I should pity
by voice. In they went, and the luggage was taken in after              her at the same time. However, one mustn’t rush to conclu-
them, and the door shut. Bang. And Worship, you tell me, had            sions. But it’s shocking that I’ve got a greater respect for Mr.
gone away.”                                                             Georgie than I ever had before. Can’t make it out.”
“Gracious me!” said Diva.                                                Diva got to work with her pastry-making, but some odd
                                                                        undercurrent of thought went trickling on. What a starva-
 “You may well say that. And you may well say that I stopped.
                                                                        tion diet for a man of ardent temperament, as Georgie now
I did, for I was rooted to the spot. It was enough to root any-
                                                                        appeared, must his life in Tilling have been, where all the
body. At that moment the Padre had come round the corner,
                                                                        women were so very undecorative. If there had only been
and he was rooted too. As I didn’t know then for certain
                                                                        a woman with a bit of brilliance about her, whom he could
whether Worship had actually gone—it might only have been
                                                                        admire and flirt with just a little, all this might have been
one of her grand plans of which one hears no more—I said
                                                                        averted. She left Janet to finish the shortbread, and went out
nothing to him, because it is so wicked to start any breath of
                                                                        to cull developments.
scandal, until one has one’s facts. It looks to me very black,
and I shouldn’t have thought it of Mr. Georgie. Whatever his             Elizabeth meantime had sighted her prey immediately, and
faults—we all have faults—I did think he was a man of clean             from close at hand observed the guilty pair entering the
life. I still hope it may be so, for he has always conducted him-       photographer’s. Were the shameless creatures, she wondered,
self with propriety, as far as I know, to the ladies of Tilling, but    going to be photographed together? That was the sort of be-
I don’t see how it possibly can.”                                       mused folly that sinning couples often committed, and bitterly
                                                                        rued it afterwards. She glided in after them, but Georgie was
Diva gave a hoarse laugh.
                                                                        only giving the shopman a roll of negatives to be developed
 “Not much temptation,” she said, “from us old hags. But it is          and printed and sent up to Mallards as soon as possible. He
queer that he brought a woman of that sort to stay at Mallards          took off his hat to her very politely, but left the shop without
on the very night Lucia was away. And then there’s another              introducing her to his companion which was only natural and
thing. She told us all that HE was going to stay at Poppy’s last        showed good feeling. Certainly she was remarkably hand-
night—”                                                                 some. Beautifully dressed. A row of pearls so large that they
“I can’t undertake to explain all that Worship tells us,” said          could not be real. Hatless with waved hair. Rouge. Lipstick.…
Elizabeth. “That is asking too much of me.”                             She went in pursuit again. They passed the Padre and his
                                                                        wife, who turned completely round to look at them; they
 “—but he was here,” said Diva. “Yet I shouldn’t wonder if              passed Susan in her Royce (she had given up tricycling in this
you’d got hold of the wrong end of the stick somehow. Habit             hot weather) who held her head out of the window till foot
of yours, Elizabeth. After all, the woman may have been a               passengers blocked her view of them, and Diva, standing on
friend of Lucia’s—”                                                     her doorstep with her market basket, was rooted to the spot as
“—and so Mr. Georgie brought her when Lucia was away. I                 firmly as Elizabeth had been the night before. The woman was
see,” said Elizabeth.                                                   a dream of beauty with her brilliant colouring and her high,
                                                                        arched eyebrows. Recovering her powers of locomotion, Diva
 Her pensive gaze wandered to the window, and she stiffened
                                                                        went into the hairdressing and toilet saloon.
like a pointing setter, for down the street from Mallards was
coming Georgie with the common, handsome, screeching                     Elizabeth bought some parsnips at Twistevant’s, deep in
woman. Elizabeth said nothing to Diva, for something might              thought. Bitter moralist though she was, she could not with-
be done in the way of original research, and she rose.                  hold her admiration for the anonymous female. Diva had
                                                                        rudely alluded to the ladies of Tilling as old hags, and was
 “Very dark clouds,” she said, “but we must pray that they
                                                                        there not a grain of truth in it? They did not make the best of
will break. I’ve done no shopping yet. I suppose Worship will
                                                                        themselves. What brilliance that skilfully applied rouge and
be back some time to-day with a basket of strawberry leaves,
                                                                        lipstick gave a face! Without it the anonymous might have
if Poppy can spare her. Otherwise, the municipal life of Tilling
                                                                        looked ten years older and far less attractive. “Hair, too,”
will be suspended. Not that it matters two straws whether
                                                                        thought Elizabeth, “that soft brown, so like a natural tint. But
she’s here or not. Quite a cypher in the Council.”
                                                                        fingernails, dripping with bright arterial blood: never!”
“Now that’s not fair,” shouted Diva angrily after her. “You
                                                                        She went straight to the hair-dressing and toilet establish-
can’t have it both ways. Why she ever made you Mayoress—”
                                                                        ment. Diva was just coming out of the shop carrying a small
but Elizabeth had shut the door.
                                                                        packet.
 Diva went down to her kitchen with an involuntary glow of
                                                                         “Little titivations, dear?” asked Elizabeth, reading her own
admiration for Georgie, which was a positive shock to her
                                                                        thoughts unerringly.
moral principles. He and his petit point, and his little cape,
and his old-maidish ways—was it possible that these cloaked             “Tooth-powder,” said Diva without hesitation, and scooted
a passionate temperament? Who could this handsome, com-                 across the road to where Susan was still leaning out of the
mon female be? Where had he picked her up? Perhaps in                   window of her Royce and beckoning to her.
the hotel when he and Lucia had stayed in London, for Diva              “I’ve seen her,” she said (there was no need to ask who ‘she’
seemed to have heard that voluptuous assignations were                  was). “And I recognised her at once from her picture in the
sometimes made in the most respectable places. What a rogue!            Tatler. You’d never guess.”
And how frightful for Lucia, if she got to know about it. “I’m
                                                                            “No, I know I shouldn’t,” said Diva impatiently. “Who?”
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                             E. F. Benson
                                                                   61
“The great prima donna. Dear me, I’ve forgotten her name.               dear friend Olga Bracely, who was here on a short visit, would
But the one Lucia went to hear sing in London,” said Susan.             be leaving the day after—a gala night at the opera—and it
“Bracelet, wasn’t it?”                                                  would give her such pleasure to meet them all. But, as she and
                                                                        Olga went up to dress next evening, she told Olga that dinner
“Bracely? Olga Bracely?” cried Diva. “Are you QUITE sure?”
                                                                        would be at eightish: say ten minutes past eight. There was a
“Positive. Quite lovely, and such hair.”                                subtle reason for this, for the photographs of Sheffield Castle
 That was enough, and Diva twinkled back across the road to             had arrived and she had pasted them into her scrap- book.
intercept Elizabeth who was just coming out of the hair-dress-          Tilling would thus have time to admire and envy before Olga
ing and toilet shop with a pink packet in her hand, which she           appeared: Lucia felt that her friends would not take much
instantly concealed below the parsnips.                                 interest in them if she was there.

“Such a screechy voice, didn’t you say, Elizabeth?” she asked.           Never had any party in Tilling worn so brilliant and unex-
                                                                        pected an appearance as that which assembled in the garden-
“Yes, frightful. It went right through me like a railway                room the following night. Evie and the Padre arrived first:
whistle. Why?”                                                          Evie’s finger nails looked as if she had pinched them all,
“It’s the prima donna, Olga Bracely. That’s all,” said Diva.            except one, in the door, causing the blood to flow freely un-
“Voice must have gone. Sad for her. Glad to have told you               derneath each. She had forgotten about that one, and it looked
who she is.”                                                            frost-bitten. Elizabeth and Benjy came next: Elizabeth’s cheeks
                                                                        were like the petals of wild roses, but she had not the nerve
 Very soon all Tilling knew who was the lovely maquillée                to incarnadine her mouth, which, by contrast, appeared to be
woman with the pearls, who had stayed the night alone with              afflicted with the cyanosis which precedes death. Diva, on the
Georgie at Mallards. Lucia had not been seen at all this morn-          other hand, had been terrified at the aspect of blooming youth
ing, and it was taken for granted that she was still away on            which rouge gave her, and she had wiped it off at the last
that snobbish expedition for which she had thrown over her              moment, retaining the Cupid’s bow of a vermilion mouth, and
Council meeting. Though Olga (so she said) was a dear friend,           two thin arched eyebrows in charcoal. Susan, wearing the Or-
it would certainly be a surprise to her, when she returned              der of the British Empire, had had her grey hair waved, and it
to find her dear friend staying with her husband at her own             resembled corrugated tin roofing: Mr. Wyse and Georgie wore
house, when she had told Tilling that both Georgie and Olga             their velvet suits. It took them all a few minutes to get used to
were staying that night at Poppy’s Castle. Or would Olga                each other, for they were like butterflies which had previously
leave Tilling again before Lucia returned? Endless interpreta-          only known each other in the caterpillar or chrysalis stage,
tions could be put on this absorbing incident, but Tilling was          and they smiled and simpered like new acquaintances in the
too dazzled with the prima donna herself, her pearls, her               most polite circles, instead of old and censorious friends. Olga
beauty, her reputation as the Queen of Song to sit in judgment          had not yet appeared, and so they had time to study Lucia’s
on her.                                                                 album of snap-shots which lay open on the piano, and she
What a dream of charm and loveliness she was with her                   explained in a casual manner what the latest additions were.
delicately rouged cheeks and vermilion mouth, and that air               “A corner of the Courtyard of Sheffield Castle,” she said. “Not
of joyous and unrepentant paganism! For Evie her blood-red              come out very well. The Norman tower. The dining hall. The
nails had a peculiar attraction, and she too went to the hair-          Duchess’s bedroom; wonderful Elizabethan bed. The picture
dressing and toilet establishment, and met Susan just coming            gallery. She is standing looking out of the window with her
out.                                                                    Pekingese. Such a sweet. It jumped up on the window-seat
 Lucia meantime had spent a municipal morning in the gar-               just before I snapped. The Duchess at the tea-table—”
den-room without showing herself even for a moment at the                “What a big cake!” interrupted Diva professionally. “Sugared,
window. Her departmental boxes were grouped round her,                  too. So she does eat something besides dressed crab. Hope she
but she gave them very little attention. She was completely             didn’t have much cake after her indigestion.”
satisfied with the explanation of the strange adventures which
                                                                         “But what a shabby court-yard,” said Evie. “I should have
had led to the staggering discovery of Olga and Georgie alone
                                                                        thought a Duke would have liked his Castle to look tidier.
in her house the night before, and was wondering whether
                                                                        Why doesn’t he tell his gardener to weed it?”
Tilling need ever know how very brief her visit to Poppy had
been. It certainly was not her business to tell her friends that        Elizabeth felt she would burst unless she put in a venomous
a cup of tea had been the only hospitality she had received.            word.
Then her photographs (if they came out) would be ready by               “Dear Worship, when you write to thank her Grace for your
to-morrow, and if she gave a party in the evening she would             pleasant visit, you must say, just in fun, of course, that you
leave her scrap-book open on the piano. She would not call              expect the court-yard to be tidied up before you come next.”
attention to it, but there it would be, furnishing unshakable
                                                                        Lucia was perfectly capable of dealing with such clumsy
ocular evidence of her visit …
                                                                        sarcasm.
 After lunch, accordingly, she rang up all her more intimate
                                                                         “What a good idea!” she said. “You always think of the right
circle, and, without definitely stating that she had this mo-
                                                                        thing, Elizabeth. Certainly I will. Remind me, Georgie.”
ment returned to Tilling from Sheffield Castle, let it be under-
stood that such was the case. It had been such a lovely morn-            So the photographs did their work. Tilling could not doubt
ing: she had enjoyed her drive so much: she had found a mass            that Lucia had been wrapped in the Norman embrace of Shef-
of arrears waiting for her, and she asked them all to dine next         field Castle, and determined silently and sternly never again
night at eight. She apologized for such short notice, but her           to allude to the painful subject.
                                                           Chapter IX
                                                                      62
 That suited Lucia admirably, for there were questions that
might be asked about her visit which would involve regret-             Chapter X
table admissions if she was to reply quite truthfully. Just as
her friends were turning surfeited and sad from the album a


                                                                           T
step was heard outside and Olga appeared in the doorway. A                      hough Tilling remained the same at heart, Olga’s
white gown, high at the neck, reeking of Molyneux and sim-                      brief visit had considerably changed the decorative
plicity. A scarlet girdle, and pearls as before.                                aspect of its leading citizenesses. The use of powder
“Dear Lucia,” she cried, “I see I’m late. Forgive me.”                 on the face on very hot days when prominent features were
                                                                       apt to turn crimson, or on very cold ones, when prominent
 “My own! I always forgive you as soon as I see you, only              features were apt to turn mauve, had always been accepted,
there is never anything to forgive,” said Lucia effusively.            but that they should embellish themselves with rouge and
“Now I needn’t say who you are, but this is Mrs. Bartlett and          lipstick and arched eyebrows was a revolution indeed. They
our Padre, and here are Mr. and Mrs. Wyse, and this is Diva            had always considered such aids to loveliness as typical of
Plaistow, and here’s my beloved Mayoress, Elizabeth Mapp-              women who shamelessly advertised their desire to capture
Flint and Major Mapp-Flint—”                                           the admiration of males, and that was still far from their inten-
Olga looked from Benjy to Elizabeth and back again.                    tions. But Diva found that arched eyebrows carefully drawn
                                                                       where there were none before gave her a look of high-bred
“But surely I recognise them,” she said. “That marvellous
                                                                       surprise: Elizabeth that the rose-mantled cheeks she now saw
picture, which everybody raves about—”
                                                                       in her looking-glass made her feel (not only appear) ten years
 “Yes, little me,” said the beaming Elizabeth, “and my Benjy in        younger: Susan that her corrugated hair made her look like a
the clouds. What an eye you’ve got, Miss Bracely!”                     French marquise. Irene, who had been spending a fortnight
“And this is my husband,” went on Lucia with airy humour,              of lionization in London, was amazed at the change when she
“who says he thinks he has met you before—”                            returned, and expressed her opinion of it, by appearing in the
                                                                       High Street with the tip of her nose covered with green bil-
“I believe we did meet somewhere, but ages ago, and he                 liard- chalk.
won’t remember me,” said Olga. “Oh, Georgie, I mustn’t drink
sherry, but as you’ve poured it out for me—”                           She at once got to work on the portrait which Lucia had com-
                                                                       missioned. She had amplified Lucia’s biographical suggestion,
“Dinner,” said Grosvenor rather sternly.                               and it represented her in full Mayoral robes and chain and
 In the hard overhead light of the dining-room, the ladies of          a three- cornered hat playing the piano in the garden-room.
Tilling, novices in maquillage, looked strangely spurious, but         Departmental boxes were piled in the background, a pack
the consciousness in each of her rejuvenated appearance, com-          of cards and a paint-box lay on the lid of the piano, and her
bined with Olga’s gay presence, made them feel exception-              bicycle leaned against it.
ally brilliant. All round the table conversation was bright and         “Symbols, beloved,” said the artist, “indicating your marvel-
eager, and they all talked at her, striving to catch her attention.    lous many-sidedness. I know you don’t ride your bicycle in
Benjy, sitting next her, began telling her one of his adventures       the garden- room, nor play cards on your piano, nor wear
with a tiger, but instantly Susan raised her voice and spoke of        your robes when you’re at your music, but I group your com-
her tricycle. Her husband chipped in, and with an eye on Olga          pleteness round you. Ah! Hold that expression of indulgent
told Lucia that his sister the Contessa di Faraglione was a pas-       disdain for the follies of the world for a moment. Think of the
sionate student of the age of Lucrezia Borgia. Diva, longing to        Tilling hags and their rouge.”
get Olga to come to ye olde tea-house, spoke loudly about her
new recipe for sardine tartlets, but Lucia overrode so com-                “Like that?” asked Lucia, curling her upper lip.
mercial a subject by the introduction of the Mayoral Motif             “No, not at all like that. Try another. Be proud and calm.
coupled with slums. Olga herself chattered and laughed, the            Think of spending an evening with your Duchess—darling,
only person present who was not anxious to make a favour-              why are you such a snob?—or just think of yourself with all
able impression. She lit a cigarette long before dinner was            your faults and splendours. Perfect!”
over, and though Elizabeth had once called that “a disgusting
                                                                           Irene stepped back from her easel.
foreign habit” she lit one, too. Olga ate a cherry beginning
with the end of the stalk and at once Benjy was trying to do           “And I’ve got it!” she cried. “There’s not a living artist and
the same, ejaculating, as it dropped into his finger bowl, “Not        very few dead ones who could have seized that so unerringly.
so easy, by Jove.” There was no Bridge to-night, but by inces-         How monstrous that my work should be hated just because I
sant harping on antique dances, Lucia managed to get herself           am a woman!”
asked to tread a minuet with Georgie. Olga accompanied                 “But your picture was the picture of the year,” said Lucia,
them, and as she rose from the piano, she became aware that            “and all the critics cracked it up.”
they were all looking at her with the expectant air of dogs that
hope to be taken out for a walk.                                       “Yes, but I felt the undercurrent of hostility. Men are such
                                                                       self- centred brutes. Wait till I publish my memoirs.”
“Yes, certainly if you want me to,” she said.
                                                                           “But aren’t you rather young for that?”
She sat down at the piano again. And she sang.
                                                                       “No, I’m twenty-five, and by that age everyone has experi-
                                                                       enced all that matters, or anyhow has imagined it. Oh, tell
                                                                       me the truth about what all the painted hags are whispering.
                                                                       Georgie and Olga Bracely being alone here. What happened
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                         E. F. Benson
                                                                     63
really? Did you arrange it all for them? How perfect of you!              Diva gave a great gasp, but her eyebrows could not express
Nobody but you would be so modern and open-minded. And                    any higher degree of astonishment.
Tilling’s respect for Georgie has gone up enormously.”                    “Oh, Elizabeth!” she cried. “Was a man ever madly in love
Lucia stared at her a moment, assimilating this monstrous                 with you? Who was it? Do tell me!”
suggestion, then sprang to her feet with a gasp of horror.                 “There are things one can’t speak of even to an old friend like
“Oh, the poisonous tongues!” she cried. “Oh, the asps. And                you,” said Elizabeth. “Yes, he’s madly in love with her, and I
besides—”                                                                 think Worship knows it. Did you notice her demonstrations
                                                                          of affection to sweet Olga? She was making the best of it, I
 She stopped. She found herself entangled in the web she her-
                                                                          believe; putting on a brazen—no, let us say a brave face. How
self had woven, and never had any spider known to natural
                                                                          worn and anxious she looked the other night when we were
history so completely encircled itself. She had told Tilling that
                                                                          all so gay. That pitiful little minuet! I’m sorry for her. When
she was going to dine and sleep at Poppy’s Castle, and had
                                                                          she married Mr. Georgie, she thought life would be so safe
shewn everybody those elegant photographs as tacit evidence
                                                                          and comfortable. A sad awakening, poor thing … Oh, another
that she had done so. Tilling therefore, had concluded that
                                                                          bit of news. Quaint Irene tells me she is doing a portrait of
Olga and Georgie had spent the night alone at Mallards, and
                                                                          Worship. Quite marvellous, she says, and it will be ready for
here was Irene intolerably commending her for her open-
                                                                          our summer exhibition. After that Lucia means to present it to
mindedness not only in condoning but in promoting this as-
                                                                          the Borough, and have it hung in the Town Hall. And Irene’s
signation. The fair fame, the unsullied morality of herself and
                                                                          Academy picture of Benjy and me will be back in time for our
Georgie, not to mention Olga, was at stake, and (oh, how it
                                                                          exhibition, too. Interesting to compare them.”
hurt!) she would be forced to give the utmost publicity to the
fact that she had come back to Tilling the same evening. That              Lucia bore her loss of prestige with characteristic gallantry.
would be a frightful loss of prestige, but there was no choice.           Indeed, she seemed to be quite unconscious that she had lost
She laughed scornfully.                                                   any, and continued to let her album of snapshots remain open
                                                                          on the piano at the Sheffield Castle page, and airily talked
“Foolish of me to have been indignant for a single moment at
                                                                          about the Florentine mirror which just did not come into the
such an idea!” she said. “I never heard such rubbish. I found
                                                                          photograph of Poppy’s bedroom. Occasionally a tiresome mo-
poor Poppy very unwell, so I just had tea with her, cheered
                                                                          ment occurred, as when Elizabeth, being dummy at a Bridge-
her up and took some photographs and came home at once.
                                                                          party in the garden-room, pored over the Castle page, and
Tilling is really beyond words!”
                                                                          came back to her place, saying,
“Darling, what a disappointment!” said Irene. “It would have
                                                                          “So clever of you, Worship, to take so many pretty photo-
been so colossal of you. And what a comedown for poor Geor-
                                                                          graphs in so short a time.”
gie. Just an old maid again.”
                                                                          Lucia was not the least disconcerted.
 The news was very soon known, and Tilling felt that Lucia
and Georgie had let them down. Everything had been so                     “They were all very short exposures, dear,” she said. “I will
exciting and ducal and compromising, and there was really                 explain that to you sometime.”
nothing left of it. Elizabeth and Diva lost no time in discussing          Everybody thought that a very fit retort, for now the Poppy-
it in Diva’s tea-room next morning when marketing was done,               crisis was no longer recent, and it was not the custom of Till-
and were severe.                                                          ing to keep such incidents alive too long: it was not generous
 “The deceitfulness of it is what disgusts me most,” said the             or kind, and besides, they grew stale. But Lucia paid her back
Mayoress. “Far worse than the snobbishness. Worship let it be             in her own coin, for next day, when playing Bridge at the
widely known that she was staying the night with Poppy, and               Mapp-Flints, she looked long and earnestly at Benjy’s tiger-
then she skulks back, doesn’t appear at all next morning to               whip, which now hung in its old place among bead-aprons
make us think that she was still away—”                                   and Malayan creases.
“And shows us all those photographs,” chimed in Diva, “as a               “Is that the one he broke at his interesting lecture, dear Eliza-
sort of … what’s the word?”                                               beth,” she asked, “or the one he lost at Diva’s tea-rooms?”
 “Can’t say, dear,” said Elizabeth, regarding her rose-leaf                Evie continued to squeak in a disconcerting manner during
cheeks with high approval in the looking-glass over the man-              the whole of the next hand, and the Poppy-crisis (for the pres-
telpiece.                                                                 ent) was suffered to lapse.
“Affidavit, that’s it, as testifying that she had stayed with              The annual Art Exhibition moved into the foreground of cur-
Poppy. Never told us she hadn’t.”                                         rent excitements, and the Tilling artists sent in their contribu-
                                                                          tions: Lucia her study of dahlias, entitled “Belli fiori “, and
 “My simple brain can’t follow her conjuring tricks,” said
                                                                          a sketch of the courtyard of Sheffield Castle, which she had
Elizabeth, “and I should be sorry if it could. But I’m only too
                                                                          weeded for purposes of Art. She called it “From Memory”,
thankful she did come back. It will be a great relief to the Pa-
                                                                          though it was really from her photograph, and, without speci-
dre, I expect, to be told that. I wonder, if you insist on know-
                                                                          fying the Castle, she added the motto
ing what I think, whether Mr. Georgie somehow decoyed
that lovely creature to Tilling, telling her that Lucia was here.                 “The splendour falls on Castle walls.”
That’s only my guess, and if so we must try to forgive him, for            Elizabeth sent in “A misty morning on the Marsh”. She was
if anything is certain in this bad business, it is that he’s madly        fond of misty mornings, because the climatic conditions abso-
in love with her. I know myself how a man looks—”                         lutely prohibited defined draughtsmanship. Georgie (without
                                                                Chapter X
                                                                     64
any notion of challenging her) contributed “A sunny morning           “Can’t make head or tail of it,” murmured Benjy. “I never saw
on the Marsh”, with sheep and dykes and clumps of ragwort             such a jumble.”
very clearly delineated: Mr. Wyse, one of his usual still-life         “A little puzzling at first,” said Elizabeth, “but I’m beginning
studies of a silver tankard, a glass half-full of (probably) Capri    to grasp it. Seated at her piano you see, to show how divinely
wine, and a spray of nasturtiums: Diva another piece of still         she plays. Scarlet robe and chain, to show she’s Mayor. Cards
life, in pastel, of two buns and a tartlet (probably sardine) on      littered about for her Bridge. Rather unkind. Bicycle leaning
a plate. This was perhaps an invasion of Mr. Wyse’s right to          against the piano. Her paint-box because she’s such a great
reproduce still life, but Diva had to be in the kitchen so much,      artist. A pity the whole thing looks like a jumble-sale, with
waiting for kettles to boil and buns to rise, that she had very       Worship as auctioneer. And such a sad falling off as a work of
little leisure for landscape. Susan Wyse sent a mystical picture      Art. I’m afraid success has gone to Irene’s head.”
of a budgerigar with a halo above its head, and rays of orange
light emanating from the primary feathers of its spread wings:         “Time we looked at our own picture,” said Benjy. “Fancy
“Lost Awhile” was the touching title. But in spite of these           this daub in the Town Hall, if that’s what she meant by some
gems, the exhibition was really Irene’s show. She had been            conspicuous and public place.”
elected an honorary member of the hanging committee, and at            “It hasn’t got there yet,” whispered Elizabeth. “As a Council-
their meetings she showed that she fully appreciated this fact.       lor, I shall have something to say to that.”
 “My birth of Venus,” she stated, “must be hung quite by              They crossed over to the other side of the room, passing Lucia
itself at one end of the room, with all the studies I made for        and Georgie on the way, as if in some figure of the Lancers.
it below. They are of vast interest. Opposite it, also by itself,     Evie and the Padre were standing close in front of the Venus
must be my picture of Lucia. There were no studies for that; it       and Evie burst into a series of shrill squeaks.
was an inspiration, but none of your potty little pictures must
be near it. Hang them where you like—oh, darling Lucia, you           “Oh, dear me! Did you ever, Kenneth!” she said. “Poor Eliza-
don’t mind your dahlias and your Castle walls being quite             beth. What a face and so like!”
out of range, do you? But those are my terms, and if you don’t         “Well indeed!” said Kenneth. “Surely the puir oyster-shell
like them, I shall withdraw my pictures. And the walls behind         canna’ bear that weight, and down she’ll go and get a duck-
them must be painted duck’s egg green. Take it or leave it.           ing. An’ the Major up in the clouds wi’ his wee bottle … Eh,
Now I can’t bother about settling about the rest, so I shall go       and here’s Mistress Mapp-Flint herself and her guid man. A
away. Let me know what you decide.”                                   proud day for ye. Come along wifie.”
 There was no choice. To reject the picture of the year and            Irene had not been at the opening, but now she entered in her
that which Irene promised them should be the picture of next          shorts and scarlet jersey. Her eye fell on the hydrangea below
year was inconceivable. The end walls of the studio where the         the Venus.
exhibition was held were painted duck’s egg green, a hydran-
                                                                       “Take that foul thing away,” she screamed. “It kills my pic-
gea and some ferns were placed beneath each, and in front of
                                                                      ture. What, another of them under my Lucia! Throw them into
them a row of chairs. Lucia, as Mayor, opened the show and
                                                                      the street, somebody. By whose orders were they put there?
made an inaugural speech, tracing the history of pictorial Art
                                                                      Where’s the hanging Committee? I summon the hanging
from earliest times, and, coming down to the present, alluded
                                                                      Committee.”
to the pictures of all her friends, the poetical studies of the
marsh, the loving fidelity of the still life exhibits, the spiri-      The offending vegetables were borne away by Georgie and
tual uplift of the budgerigar. “Of the two great works of Miss        the Padre, and Irene, having cooled down, joined Benjy and
Coles,” she concluded, “which will make our exhibition so             Elizabeth by the Venus. She looked from it to them and from
ever-memorable, I need not speak. One has already acquired            them to it.
world-wide fame, and I hope it will not be thought egotistic           “My God, how I’ve improved since I did that!” she said. “I
of me if I confidently prophesy that the other will also. I am        think I must repaint some of it, and put more character into
violating no secrets if I say that it will remain in Tilling in       your faces.”
some conspicuous and public place, the cherished possession
for ever of our historic town.”                                       “Don’t touch it, dear,” said Elizabeth nervously. “It’s perfect
                                                                      as it is. Genius.”
She bowed, she smiled, she accepted a special copy of the
catalogue, which Georgie had decorated with a blue riband,             “I know that,” said Irene, “but a few touches would make it
and, very tactfully, instead of looking at the picture of herself,    more scathing. There’s rouge on your cheeks now, Mapp, and
sat down with him in front of that of Elizabeth and Benjy,            that would give your face a hungry impropriety. I’ll see to that
audibly pointing out its beauties to him.                             this afternoon when the exhibition closes for the day.”

 “Wonderful brush-work,” she said, waving her catalogue as            “But not while it’s on view, quaint one,” argued Elizabeth.
if it was a paintbrush. “Such life and movement! The waves.           “The Committee accepted it as it was. Most irregular.”
Venus’s button boots. Quite Dutch. But how Irene has devel-           “They’ll like it far better when I’ve touched it up,” said Irene.
oped since then! Presently we will look at the picture of me          “You’ll see;” and she joined Lucia and Georgie.
with this fresh in our minds.”
                                                                       “Darling, it’s not unworthy of you, is it?” she asked. “And
Elizabeth and Benjy were compelled, by the force of Lucia’s           how noble you are to give it to the Borough for the Town Hall.
polite example, to sit in front of her picture, and they talked       It must hang just above the Mayor’s chair. That’s the only
quietly behind their catalogues.                                      place for it.”

Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                          E. F. Benson
                                                                    65
“There’ll be no difficulty about that,” said Lucia.                      little flower- study for our esposizione, to fill up the vacant
                                                                         place by my dahlias. I shall call it ‘Jubilant July’. As you know,
 She announced her gift to the Town Council at their next
                                                                         I am always at your disposal. What good wind blows you
meeting, coupled with the artist’s desire that it should be
                                                                         here?”
hung on the wall behind the Mayor’s chair. Subdued respect-
ful applause followed her gracious speech and an uncomfort-              “Lovely of you to spare the time,” said Elizabeth. “I’ve just
able silence, for most of her Councillors had already viewed             been to the esposizione, and I felt it was my duty to see you at
the work of Art with feelings of bewildered stupefaction. Then           once. Quaint Irene has done something too monstrous. She’s
she was formally thanked for her generous intention and the              altered my face; she’s given it a most disgusting expression.
Town-Clerk intimated that before the Borough accepted any                The picture can’t be allowed to remain there in its present con-
gift, a small committee was always appointed to inspect it.              dition. I wondered if you with your great influence—”
Apart from Elizabeth, who said she would be honoured to                   Lucia half-closed her eyes, and regarded her sketch with
serve on it, some diffidence was shown; several Councillors              intolerable complacency.
explained that they had no knowledge of the pictorial art, but
eventually two of them said they would do their best.                    “Yes: that curious picture of Irene’s,” she said at length.
                                                                         “What a Puck-like genius! I went with her to our gallery a
 This Committee met next morning at the exhibition, and sat              couple of hours ago, to see what she had done to the Venus:
in depressed silence in front of the picture. Then Elizabeth             she was so eager to know what I thought about her little
sighed wistfully and said “Tut, tut” and the two others looked           alterations.”
to her for a lead. She continued to gaze at the picture.
                                                                         “An outrage, an abomination!” cried Elizabeth.
 “Me to say something, gentlemen?” she asked, suddenly
conscious of their scrutiny. “Well, if you insist. I trust you will       “I should not put it quite as strongly as that,” said Lucia, re-
disagree with what I feel I’m bound to say, for otherwise I              turning to her holly-hocks and putting in a vein on one of the
fear a very painful duty lies in front of us. So generous of our         leaves with exquisite delicacy. “But I told her that I could not
beloved Mayor, and so like her, isn’t it? But I don’t see how            approve of those new touches. They introduced, to my mind,
it is possible for us to recommend the Council to accept her             a note of farce into her satire, which was out of place, though
gift. I wouldn’t for the world set up my opinion against yours,          amusing in itself. She agreed with me after a little argument
but that’s what I feel. Most distressing for me, you will well           into which I need not go. She will remove them again during
understand, being so intimate a friend of hers, but private              the lunch hour.”
affection cannot rank against public responsibility.” A slight           “Oh thank you, dear,” said Elizabeth effusively. “I always say
murmur of sympathy followed this speech, and the committee               what a true friend you are. I was terribly upset.”
found that they were of one mind in being conscientiously un-
able to recommend the Council to accept the Mayor’s gift.                “Nothing at all,” said Lucia sucking her paint-brush. “Quite
                                                                         easy.”
 “Very sad,” said Elizabeth, shaking her head. “Our proceed-
ings, I take it, are confidential until we communicate them              Elizabeth turned her undivided attention to the holly-hocks.
officially to the Council.”                                              “What a lovely sketch!” she said. “How it will enrich our
 When her colleagues had gone, the Mayoress strolled round               exhibition. Thank you, dear, again. I won’t keep you from
the gallery. A misty morning on the marsh really looked very             your work any longer. How you find time for all you do is a
well: its vague pearly opalescence seemed to emphasize the               constant amazement to me.”
faulty drawing in Georgie’s sunny morning on the marsh and               She ambled swiftly away. It would have been awkward if, at
Diva’s tartlets. Detaching herself from it, she went to the Ve-          such a genial moment, Lucia had asked whether the artistic
nus, and a horrified exclamation burst from her. Quaint Irene            committee appointed by the Council had inspected Irene’s
had carried out her awful threat, had tinged her cheeks with             other masterpiece yet.
unnatural colour, and had outlined her mouth with a thin
                                                                          The holiday months of August and September were at hand,
line of vermilion, giving it a coyly beckoning expression. So
                                                                         when the ladies of Tilling were accustomed to let their houses
gross a parody of her face and indeed of her character could
                                                                         and move into smaller houses themselves at a cheaper rent
not be permitted to remain there: something must be done,
                                                                         than what they received. Diva, for instance, having let her
and, leaving the gallery in great agitation, she went straight to
                                                                         own house, was accustomed to move into Irene’s, who took a
Mallards, for no one but Lucia had the smallest influence with
                                                                         remote cottage on the marsh, where she could pursue her art
that quaint and venomous young person.
                                                                         and paint nude studies of herself in a looking-glass. But this
 The Mayor had snatched a short respite from her incessant               year Diva refused to quit ye olde tea-house, when, with the
work, and was engaged on a picture of some fine holly-hocks              town full of visitors, she would be doing so roaring a busi-
in her garden. She was feeling very buoyant, for the Poppy-              ness; the Wyses decided not to go to Italy to stay with the
crisis seemed to be quite over, and she knew that she had                Contessa, since international relations were so strained, and
guessed correctly the purport of her Mayoress’s desire to see            Lucia felt it her duty as Mayor, to remain in Tilling. The only
her on urgent business. Invisible to mortal eye, there was               letting done, in fact, was by the Padre, who left his curate in
a brazier of coals of fire on the lawn beside her, which she             charge, while he and Evie took a prolonged holiday in bon-
would presently pour on to the Mayoress’s head.                          nie Scotland, and let the Vicarage to the Mapp-Flints who had
 “Good morning, dear Elizabeth,” she said. “I’ve just snatched           a most exciting tenant. This was a Miss Susan Leg, who, so
half an hour while good Mrs. Simpson is typing some letters              Tilling was thrilled to learn from an interview she gave to a
for me. Susan and Mr. Wyse have implored me to do another                London paper, was none other than the world-wide novelist,

                                                              Chapter X
                                                                     66
Rudolph da Vinci. Miss Leg (so she stated in this piece of self-      Lucia at once divined that she had taken Miss Leg to have tea
revelation) never took a holiday. “I shall not rest,” she finely      at Diva’s. She longed to follow and open operations at once,
observed, “till the shadows of life’s eventide close round            but decided to let the Mayoral card do its work. On her way
me,” and she went on to explain that she would be studying,           home she bought a copy of the 25th edition of the novelist’s
in view of a future book, this little centre of provincial Eng-       Kind Hearts and Coronets, and dipped into it. It was very
lish life. “I am well aware,” said Miss Leg, “that my readers         sumptuous. On the first page there was a Marchioness who
expect of me an aristocratic setting for my romances, but I           had promised to open a village bazaar and was just setting
intend to prove to them that life is as full of human interest        off to do so, when a telephone message arrived that a Royal
in any simple, humble country village as in Belgravia and the         Princess would like to visit her that afternoon. “Tell her Royal
country-houses of the nobility.”                                      Highness,” said that kind-hearted woman, “that I have a long-
                                                                      standing engagement, and cannot disappoint my people.
Lucia read this interview aloud to Georgie. It seemed to sug-
                                                                      I will hurry back as soon as the function is over.…” Lucia
gest possibilities. She veiled these in her usual manner.
                                                                      pictured herself coming back rather late to entertain Miss Leg
 “Rudolph da Vinci,” she said musingly. “I have heard her             at lunch— Georgie would be there to receive her—because
name now I come to think of it. She seems to expect us all            it was her day for reading to the inmates of the workhouse.
to be yokels and bumpkins. I fancy she will have to change            She would return with a copy of Kind Hearts and Coronets in
her views a little. No doubt she will get some introduction to        her hand, explaining that the dear old bodies implored her to
me, and I shall certainly ask her to tea. If she is as uppish and     finish the chapter. The idea of Miss Leg writing a best-seller
superior as she appears to be, that would be enough. We don’t         about Tilling became stupefyingly sweet.
want best-sellers to write up our cultured vivid life here. So
                                                                          Georgie came in, bringing the evening post.
cheap and vulgarising; not in accordance with our traditions.”
                                                                       “A letter from Olga,” he said, “and she’s written to me too,
There was nothing, Georgie knew, that would fill Lucia with
                                                                      so it’s sure to be the same. She wants us to go to Riseholme
deeper pride than that traditions should be violated and life
                                                                      to- morrow for two days, as she’s got music. A string quartette
vulgarised, and even while she uttered these high sentiments
                                                                      coming down.”
a vision rose in her mind of Rudolph da Vinci writing a best-
seller, with the scene laid in Tilling, and with herself, quite           Lucia read her letter.
undisguised, as head of its social and municipal activities.          “Yes, most kind of her,” she said. “But how can I get away?
 “Yet one must not prejudge her,” she went on, as this vision         Ah, she anticipates that, and says that if I’m too busy she will
grew brighter. “I must order a book of hers and read it, before       understand. And it would look so marked if I went away
I pass judgment on her work. And we may find her a very               directly after Miss Leg had arrived.”
pleasant sort of woman. Perhaps I had better call on her, Geor-        “That’s for you to judge,” he said. “If you think she matters,
gie, for I should not like her to think that I slighted her, and      I expect you’re right, because Elizabeth’s getting a pretty firm
then I will ask her to dine with us, très intime, just you and        hold. I’ve been introduced to her: Elizabeth brought her in to
she and I. I should be sorry if her first impressions of Tilling      tea at Diva’s.”
were not worthy of us. Diva, for instance, it would be mislead-
ing if she saw Diva with those extraordinary eyebrows, bring-         “I imagined that had happened,” said Lucia. “What about
ing up teas from the kitchen, purple in the face, and thought         her?”
her representative of our social life. Or if Elizabeth with her       “A funny little round red thing, rather like Diva. Swanky.
rouged cheeks asked her to dine at the Parsonage, and Benjy           She’s brought a butler and a footman, she told us, and her
told his tiger-stories. Yes, I will call on her as soon as she ar-    new Daimler will get down late to-night. And she asked if any
rives, and get hold of her. I will take her to our Art Exhibition,    of the nobility had got country seats near Tilling—”
allow her to sign the Mayor’s book as a distinguished visitor,
and make her free of my house without ceremony. We will               “Did you tell her that I dined and slept—that Duchess Poppy
show her our real, inner life. Perhaps she plays Bridge: I will       asked me to dine and sleep at the Castle?” interrupted Lucia.
ascertain that when I call. I might almost meet her at the sta-        “No,” said Georgie. “I thought of it, but then I judged it was
tion, if I can find out when she arrives. Or it might be better if    wiser not to bring it up again. She ate a whole lot of buns, and
you met her at the station as representing me, and I would call       she was very gracious to Diva, (which Diva didn’t like much)
on her at Grebe half an hour afterwards. That would be more           and told her she would order her chef—her very words—to
regular.”                                                             send her a recipe for cream wafers. Elizabeth’s toadying her
 “Elizabeth told me that she arrives by the three-twenty-five         like anything. She said ‘Oh, how kind, Miss Leg. You are
to- day,” said Georgie. “And she has hired a motor and is             lucky, dear Diva.’ And they were going on to see the church
meeting her.”                                                         afterwards, and Leg’s dining with the Mapp-Flints tomorrow.”

It did not require so keen a nose as Lucia’s to scent rivalry, but        Lucia reviewed this rather sinister intelligence.
she gave no hint of that.                                             “I hate to disappoint dear Olga,” she said, “but I think I had
“Very proper,” she said. “Elizabeth no doubt will drive her to        better stop here. What about you?”
Grebe, and show her tenant the house.”                                    “Of course I shall go,” said Georgie.
 Lucia bicycled to Grebe about tea-time, but found that Miss          Georgie had to leave for Riseholme next morning without a
Leg had driven into the town, accompanied by the Mayoress,            maid, for in view of the entertainment that might be going on
to have tea. She left her official card, as Mayor of Tilling, and     at Mallards, Lucia could not spare either Foljambe or Grosve-
went straight to the Vicarage. But Elizabeth was also out, and
 Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                            E. F. Benson
                                                                    67
nor. She spent a long time at the garden-room window that                “Alone? Without his wife?” asked Miss Leg. “I do not ap-
afternoon, and told her cook to have a good tea ready to be              prove of that. A wife’s duty, Mayor or not, is to be always with
served at a moment’s notice, for Miss Leg would surely return            her husband and vice versa. If she can’t leave her home, she
her call to-day. Presently a large car came bouncing up the              ought to insist on his stopping with her.”
street: from its size Lucia thought at first that it was Susan’s,         “Dear Lucia is a little slack in these ways,” said Elizabeth
but there was a man in livery sitting next the chauffeur, and            regretfully. “But she gives us to understand that they’re all old
at once she guessed. The car stopped at Mallards, and from               friends.”
behind her curtain Lucia could see that Elizabeth and another
woman were inside. A podgy little hand was thrust out of the              “The older the better,” said Miss Leg epigrammatically, and
window, holding a card, which the man-servant thrust into                they all laughed very much.
the letter box. He rang the bell, but before it was answered             “Tell me more about your Lucia,” she ordered, when their
he mounted again, and the car drove on. A hundred pages of               mirth subsided.
stream-of-consciousness fiction could not have explained the
situation more exhaustively to Lucia than her own flash of                “I don’t fancy you would find very much in common with
insight. Elizabeth had evidently told the novelist that it would         her,” said Elizabeth thoughtfully. “Rather prone we think, to
be quite sufficient to leave a card on the Mayor and have done           plot and intrigue in a way we regret. And a little superior at
with her. What followed at the Parsonage that evening when               times.”
Miss Leg dined with the Mapp-Flints bore out the accuracy of             “It seems to have gone to her head to be Mayor,” put in Benjy.
Lucia’s intuition.                                                       “She’d have made a sad mess of things without you to steady
“A very plain simple dinner, dear Miss Leg,” said Elizabeth              her, Liz.”
as they sat down. “Just pot luck, as I warned you, so I hope              “I do my best,” sighed Elizabeth, “though it’s uphill work
you’ve got a country appetite.”                                          sometimes. I am her Mayoress and a Councillor, Miss Leg,
 “I know I have, Liz,” said Benjy heartily. “A round of golf             and she does need assistance and support. Oh, her dear,
makes me as hungry as I used to be after a day’s tiger shoot-            funny little ways! She’s got a curious delusion that she can
ing in the jungle.”                                                      play the piano, and she gives us a treat sometimes, and one
                                                                         doesn’t know which way to look. And not long ago—how
“Those are trophies of yours at Grebe, then,” said Miss Leg.             you’ll scream, Miss Leg, she told us all, several times over,
“I consider tiger-shooting a manly pursuit. That’s what I mean           that she was going to stay with the Duchess of Sheffield, and
by sport, taking your life in your hand instead of sitting in            when she came back she showed us quantities of photographs
an arm chair and firing into flocks of hand-reared pheasants.            of the Castle to prove she had been there—”
That kind of ‘sportsman’ doesn’t even load his own gun, I
believe. Butchers and poulterers; that’s what I called them in            “I went to a Charity Concert of the Duchess’s in her mansion
one of my books.”                                                        in Grosvenor Square not long ago,” said Miss Leg. “Five-guin-
                                                                         ea seats. Does she live near here?”
“Withering! scathing!” cried Elizabeth. “And how well-
deserved! Benjy gave such a wonderful lecture here the other              “No, many miles away. There’s the cream of it. It turned out
day about his hair-breath escapes. You could have heard a pin            that Worship only went to tea. A three hours’ drive each way
drop.”                                                                   to get a cup of tea! So odd. I almost suspect that she was never
                                                                         asked at all really; some mistake. And she always alludes to
 “Ah, that’s an old story now,” said Benjy. “My shikarri days            her as Poppy; whether she calls her that to her face is another
are over. And there’s not a man in Tilling who’s even seen a             question.”
tiger except through the bars at the Zoo. Georgie Pillson, for
instance—”                                                                “Evidently a snob,” said Miss Leg. “If there’s one thing I hate
                                                                         it’s snobbishness.”
 “Whom I presented to you at tea yesterday, Miss Leg,” put
in Elizabeth. “Husband of our dear Mayor. Pointed beard.                 “Oh, you mustn’t call her a snob,” cried Elizabeth. “I should
Sketches quite prettily, and does exquisite needlework. My               be so vexed with myself if I had conveyed that impression.”
wicked Benjy once dubbed him Miss Milliner Michael-Ange-                 “And is that a family house of her husband’s where I left my
lo.”                                                                     card to-day?” asked Miss Leg.
 “And that was very withering too,” said Miss Leg, eating                Elizabeth sighed.
lumps of expensive middle-cut salmon with a country appe-
                                                                          “Oh, what a tragic question!” she said. “No, they’re quite
tite.
                                                                         parvenus in Tilling; that beautiful house—such a garden—be-
 “Well, well, not very kind, I’m afraid, but I like a man to be a        longed to my family. I couldn’t afford to live there, and I had
man,” said Benjy. “I’ll take a bit more fish, Liz. A nice fresh-         to sell it. Lucia gave me a pitiful price for it, but beggars can’t
run fish. And what are you going to give us next?”                       be choosers. A cruel moment!”
“Just a brace of grouse,” said Elizabeth.                                 “What a shame,” said Miss Leg. “All the old homes of Eng-
 “Ah, yes. A few old friends with Scotch moors haven’t quite             land are going to upstarts and interlopers. I hope you never
forgotten me yet, Miss Leg. Dear old General!”                           set foot in it.”

“Your Miss Milliner has gone away, Benjy,” said Elizabeth.               “It’s a struggle to do so,” said Elizabeth, “but I feel that both
“Staying with Miss Olga Bracely. Probably you know her,                  as Mayoress and as a friend of Lucia, I must be neighbourly.
Miss Leg. The prima donna. Such a fascinating woman.”                    Neither officially nor socially must I fail to stand by her.”

                                                             Chapter X
                                                                       68
They made plans for next day. Elizabeth was very sarcastic              that for any casual visitor. And the privilege of signing the
and amusing about the morning shopping of her friends.                  Mayor’s book is reserved for really distinguished strangers,
                                                                        whose visit it is an honour to record. Olga, for instance.”
 “Such fun!” she said. “Quite a feature of life here, you must
not miss it. You’ll see Diva bolting in and out of shops like            “But, dear Worship,” said Elizabeth. “I’ve already promised
a rabbit, Benjy says, when a ferret’s after it, and Susan Wyse          to show her the plate.”
perhaps on a tricycle, and Lucia and quaint Irene Coles who             “Nothing simpler. At two p.m. or three p.m., whichever it is,
painted the picture of the year, which is in our exhibition here;       on Tuesday afternoon.”
you must see that. Then we could pop in at the Town Hall,
                                                                            “And the Mayor’s book: I’ve asked her to sign it.”
and I would show you our ancient charters and our wonder-
ful Elizabethan plate. And would you honour us by signing                   Lucia laughed gaily.
your name in the Mayor’s book for distinguished visitors?”              “Start a Mayoress’s book, dear,” she said. “You can get any-
“Certainly, very glad,” said Miss Leg, “though I don’t often            body you like to sign that.”
give my autograph.”                                                     Lucia remained a moment in thought after ringing off. Then
“Oh, that is kind. I would be ready for you at ten—not too              she rang up the Town Hall.
early?— and take you round. Must you really be going? Benjy,             “Is that the Serjeant?” she said. “The Mayor speaking. Ser-
see if Miss Leg’s beautiful Daimler is here. Au reservoir!”             jeant, do not get out the Corporation plate or produce my visi-
“O what?” asked Miss Leg.                                               tors’ book without direct orders from me. At present I have
                                                                        given none. What a lovely morning.”
 “Some of the dear folk here say ‘au reservoir’ instead of ‘au
                                                                         Lucia gave Mrs. Simpson a holiday, as there was nothing for
revoir’,” explained Elizabeth.
                                                                        her to do, and went down to the High Street for her market-
“Why do they do that?” asked Miss Leg.                                  ing. Her mind resembled a modern army attended by an air
 Lucia, as she dined alone, had been thinking over the hostili-         force and all appliances. It was ready to scout and skirmish, to
ties which she felt were imminent. She was quite determined             lay an ambush, to defend or to attack an enemy with explo-
to annex Miss Leg with a view to being the central figure in            sives from its aircraft or poison gas (which would be only
her next best- seller, but Elizabeth was determined to annex            a reprisal, for she was certain it had been used against her).
her too, and Lucia was aware that she and her Mayoress could            Diva was watching at her window, evidently waiting for her,
not run in harness over this job; the feat was impossible. Her          and threw it open.
pride forbade her to get hold of Miss Leg through Elizabeth,                “Have you seen her?” she asked.
and Elizabeth, somehow or other, must be detached. She sat                  There was only one “her” just now.
long that night meditating in the garden-room, and when next
morning the Mayoress rang her up as usual at breakfast time,            “Only her hand,” said Lucia. “She put it out of her motor—a
she went to the telephone ready for anything.                           podgy sort of hand—yesterday afternoon. She left a card on
                                                                        me, or rather her footman popped it into my letterbox, with-
“Good morning, dear Worship,” said that cooing voice.                   out asking if I was in. Elizabeth was with her. They drove on.”
“What a beautiful day.”
                                                                         “Well, I do call that rude,” said Diva, warmly. “High and
“Lovely!” said Lucia.                                                   lofty, that’s what she is. She told me her chef would send
“Nothing I can do for you, dear?”                                       me a recipe for cream-wafers. I tried it. Muck. I gave one to
                                                                        Paddy, and he was sick. And she rang me up just now to go to
“Nothing, thanks,” said Lucia, and waited.                              tea with her this afternoon. Did she think I was going out to
“I’m taking Miss Leg—”                                                  Grebe, just when I was busiest, to eat more muck? Not I. She
                                                                        dined at Elizabeth’s last night, and Janet heard from Eliza-
“Who?” asked Lucia.
                                                                        beth’s parlour-maid what they had. Tomato soup, middle-cut
“Susan Leg: Rudolph da Vinci: my tenant,” explained Eliza-              of Salmon sent over from Hornbridge, a brace of grouse from
beth.                                                                   Rice’s, Melba peaches, but only bottled with custard instead of
“Oh, yes. She left a card on me yesterday, Foljambe told me.            cream, and tinned caviare. And Elizabeth called it pot-luck! I
So kind. I hope she will enjoy her visit.”                              never had such luck there, pot or unpot. Elizabeth’s meaning
                                                                        to run her, that’s what it is. Let ‘em run! I’ll come out with you
 “I’m taking her to the Town Hall this morning. So would you            and do my shopping. Just see how Paddy is, but I think he’s
be a very sweet Worship and tell the Serjeant to get out the            got rid of it. Cream-wafers, indeed! Wait a sec.”
Corporation plate, which she would like to see. We shall be
there by half-past ten, so if it is ready by a quarter past there’ll     While Lucia waited a sec., Susan’s Wyse’s Royce, with her
be no delay. And though she seldom gives her autograph,                 husband and herself inside, hooted its ponderous way into
she’s promised to sign her name in Worship’s book.”                     the High Street. As it drew up at the fishmonger’s, Lucia’s
                                                                        eagle eye spied Elizabeth and a round, fat little woman, of
Lucia gave a happy sigh. She had not dared to hope for such             whose identity there could be no doubt, walking towards it.
a rash move.                                                            Mr. Wyse had got out and Elizabeth clearly introduced him to
“My dear, how very awkward,” she said. “You see, the Cor-               her companion. He stood hatless, as was his polite habit when
poration plate is always on view to the public on Tuesdays              he talked to ladies under God’s blue sky, or even in the rain,
at three p.m.—or it may be two p.m.; you had better make                and then led her towards the open door of the Royce, where
certain—and it is such a business to get it out. One cannot do          Elizabeth was chatting to Susan.

Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                                E. F. Benson
                                                                   69
 Lucia strolled towards them, but the moment Elizabeth saw               “Poor wretch. Mapp-kissed, like raisins. But the most exciting
her, she wheeled round without smile or greeting, and, de-              news, beloved. The directors of the Carlton Gallery in Bond
taching Miss Leg, moved away up the street to where Irene in            Street have asked me if I will let them have my Venus for their
her usual shorts and scarlet pullover, had just set up her easel        autumn exhibition. Also an enquiry from an American col-
at the edge of the pavement.                                            lector, if it’s for sale. I’m asking a thumping price for it. But I
                                                                        shall show it at the Carlton first, and I shall certainly put back
“Good morning, dear Susan,” called Lucia. “Oh, Mr. Wyse,
                                                                        Mapp’s rouge and her cocotte smile. May I come up presently
pray put your hat on; such a hot sun. Who was that odd little
                                                                        to Mallards?”
woman with my Mayoress, who spoke to you just now?”
                                                                        “Do dear. I have a little leisure this morning.”
 “I think your Mayoress said Miss Leg,” observed Mr. Wyse.
“And she told my Susan that if she asked Miss Leg to dine to-            Lucia passed on with that ever-recurring sense of regret that
night she would probably accept. Did you ask her, dear? If so,          Irene had not painted her on the oyster-shell and Georgie in
we must order more fish.”                                               the clouds, and, having finished her shopping, strolled home
                                                                        by the Town Hall. The Serjeant was standing on the steps,
“Certainly I didn’t,” said Susan. “Who is this Leg? Why
                                                                        looking a little flushed.
should Elizabeth foist her friends on me? Most unheard of.”
                                                                        “The Mayoress and a friend have just been here, your Wor-
 “Leg? Leg?” said Lucia vaguely. “Ah, of course. Elizabeth’s
                                                                        ship,” he said. “She told me to get out the Corporation plate
tenant. The novelist. Does she not call herself Rudolph da
                                                                        and your Worship’s book. I said I couldn’t without direct
Vinci?”
                                                                        orders from you. She was a bit threatening.”
 “A very self-satisfied little woman, whatever she calls her-
                                                                        “You did quite right, Serjeant,” said Lucia very graciously.
self,” said Susan with unusual severity, “and she’s not going
                                                                        “The same reply always, please.”
to dine with me. She can dine with Elizabeth.”
                                                                         Meantime Elizabeth and Miss Leg, having been thwarted at
Diva had trundled up and overheard this.
                                                                        the Town Hall, passed on to the Exhibition where Elizabeth
“She did. Last night,” she said. “All most sumptuous and                demanded free admittance for her as a distinguished visitor.
grand. But fancy her leaving a card on Lucia without even               But the door-keeper was as firm as the Serjeant had been, and
asking whether she was at home! So rude.”                               Elizabeth produced a sixpence and six coppers. They went
“Did she indeed?” asked Mr. Wyse in a shocked voice. “We                first to look at the Venus, and Elizabeth had a most disagree-
are not accustomed to such want of manners in Tilling. You              able surprise, for the eminent novelist highly disapproved of
were very right, Susan, not to ask her to dine. Your intuition          it.
served you well.”                                                        “An irreverent parody of that great Italian picture by Botticel-
“I thought it strange,” said Lucia, “but I daresay she’s a very         lo,” she said. “And look at that old hag on the oyster shell and
decent, homely little woman, when left to herself. Elizabeth            that boozy navvy in a top-hat. Most shocking! I am astonished
was with her, when she honoured me with her card.”                      that you allowed it to be exhibited. And by that rude unsexed
                                                                        girl in shorts? Her manners and her painting are on a par.”
“That accounts for it,” interrupted Diva and Susan simultane-
ously.                                                                   After this pronouncement Elizabeth did not feel equal to dis-
                                                                        closing that she was the hag and Benjy the navvy, but she was
 “—and Elizabeth rang me up at breakfast and asked to give              pleased that Miss Leg was so severe on the art of the rude girl
orders that the Corporation plate should be ready for her little        in shorts, and took her to the portrait of Lucia.
friend’s inspection this morning at 10.30. And the Mayor’s
book for her to sign.”                                                  “There’s another picture of Miss Coles’s,” she said, “which is
                                                                        much worse that the other. Look: it reminds me of an auction-
“Well, I never!” said Diva. “And the church-bells ringing, I            eer at a jumble sale. Bicycle, piano, old packs of cards, paint-
suppose. And the Town Band playing the Italian National                 box—”
Anthem for Rudolph da Vinci. What did you say?”
                                                                        Miss Leg burst into loud cries of pleasure and admiration.
“Very polite regrets.”
                                                                        “A magnificent work!” she said. “That’s something to look at.
Irene’s voice from a few yards away, loud and emphatic,                 Glorious colour, wonderful composition. And what an inter-
broke in on their conversation.                                         esting face. Who is it?”
 “No, Mapp!” she cried. “I will not come to the Exhibition              “Our Mayor: our dear Lucia whom we chatted about last
to show you and your friend—I didn’t catch her name—my                  night,” said Elizabeth.
pictures. And I can’t bear being looked over when I’m sketch-
ing. Trot along.”                                                        “Your chat misled me. That woman has great character.
                                                                        Please ask her to meet me, and the artist too. She has real
There seemed nothing else for them to do, and Lucia walked              talent in spite of her other picture. I could dine with you this
on to Irene.                                                            evening: just a plain little meal as we had last night. I never
“Did you hear?” asked Irene. “I sent Mapp and her friend                mind what I eat. Or tea. Tea would suit me as well.”
about their business. Who is the little guy?”                           Agitated thoughts darted through the Mayoress’s mind. She
 “A Miss Leg, I am told,” said Lucia. “She writes novels under          was still desperately anxious to retain her proprietary rights
some foreign name. Elizabeth’s tenant: she seems to have                over Miss Leg, but another plain little meal could not be man-
taken her up with great warmth.”                                        aged. Moreover it could not be expected that even the most

                                                            Chapter X
                                                                    70
exalted Christian should forgive, to the extent of asking Lucia      a large percentage of Elizabeth’s disparaging remarks about
to dinner, her monstrous rudeness about the Corporation              Lucia at the plain little meal, and of Benjy’s comments on
plate and the Mayor’s book, and it would take a very good            Georgie, and now they assumed a different aspect. Were they
Christian to forgive Irene. Tea was as far as she could go, and      prompted by malice and jealousy and impotence to climb into
there was always the hope that they would refuse.                    Tilling society? “I’ve not got any copy at present,” thought
                                                                     Miss Leg. “I must do something. Perhaps Mrs. Mapp-Flint has
 “Alas, Benjy and I are both engaged to-night,” she said. “But
                                                                     had a past, though it doesn’t look likely.”
I’ll ask them to tea as soon as I get home.”
                                                                      It was a very hot day, and Georgie and Lucia settled to go
They strayed round the rest of the gallery: the misty morning
                                                                     bicycling after tea. The garden-room, till then, was the cool-
on the marsh, Elizabeth thought, looked very full of poetry.
                                                                     est place and after lunch they played the piano and sat in the
 “The usual little local daubs,” observed Miss Leg, walking by       window overlooking the street. He had had two lovely days
it without a glance. “But the hollyhocks are charming, and so        at Riseholme, and enlarged on them with more enthusiasm
are the dahlias. By Miss Coles, too, I suppose.”                     than tact.
 Elizabeth simply could not bear that she should know who             “Olga was too wonderful,” he said. “Singing divinely and
the artist was.                                                      inspiring everybody. She enjoys herself simply by giving
                                                                     enjoyment to other people. A concert both evenings at seven,
“She does exquisite flower-studies,” she said.
                                                                     with the Spanish quartette and a few songs by Olga. Just an
Irene was in the garden-room with Lucia when Elizabeth’s             hour and a half and then a delicious supper in the garden,
call came through.                                                   with everybody in Riseholme asked, and no Duchesses and
“Just been to the Exhibition, dear Worship, with Miss Leg.           things at all. Just for Riseholme: that’s so like her: she doesn’t
She’s so anxious to know you and quaint Irene. Would you             know what the word ‘snob’ means. And I had the room I had
pop in for a cup of tea this afternoon? She will be there.”          before, with a bathroom next door, and my breakfast on the
                                                                     balcony. And none of those plots and intrigues we used to be
“So kind!” said Lucia. “I must consult my engagement book.”          always embroiled in. It WAS a change.”
 She covered the receiver with her hand, and thought intense-         A certain stoniness had come into Lucia’s face, which Georgie,
ly for a moment.                                                     fired with his subject, did not perceive.
“Irene,” she whispered. “Elizabeth asks us both to go to tea         “And she asked down a lot of the supers from Covent Gar-
with her and meet Miss Leg. I think I won’t. I don’t want to         den,” he went on, “and put them up at the Ambermere Arms.
get at her via Elizabeth. What about you?”                           And her kindness to all her old friends: dull old me, for in-
“I don’t want to get at Leg via anybody” said Irene.                 stance. She’s taken a villa at Le Touquet now, and she’s asked
                                                                     me there for a week.” I shall cross from Seaport, and there are
Lucia uncovered the receiver.                                        some wonderful anti-sick tablets—”
“Alas!” she said. “As I feared I am engaged. And Irene is with       “Did dearest Olga happen to mention if she was expecting me
me and regrets she can’t come either. Such a pity. Goodbye.”         as well?” asked Lucia in a perfectly calm voice.
“Why my regrets?” asked Irene. “And what’s it all about?”             Georgie descended, like an aeroplane with engine-trouble,
 Lucia sighed. “All very tiresome,” she said, “but Elizabeth         from these sunlit spaces. He made a bumpy landing.
forces me, in mere self-defence, to descend to little schemings          “I can’t remember her doing so,” he said.
and intrigues. How it bores me!”                                     “Not a thing you would be likely to forget,” said Lucia. “Your
 “Darling, it’s the breath of your life!” said Irene, “and you do    wonderful memory.”
it so beautifully!”                                                  “I daresay she doesn’t want to bother you with invitations,”
 In the course of that day and the next Miss Leg found that she      said Georgie artfully. “You see, you did rub it in a good deal
was not penetrating far into the life of Tilling. She attended       how difficult it was for you to get away, and how you had to
shopping parade next morning by herself. Diva and the Wyses          bring tin boxes full of municipal papers with you.”
were talking together, but gave her no more than cold polite             Lucia’s face brightened.
smiles, and when she had passed, Irene joined them and there
was laughter. Further on Lucia, whom she recognised from                 “Very likely that is it,” she said.
Irene’s portrait was walking with a tall man with a Vandyck           “And you promised to spend Saturday till Monday with her a
beard, whom she guessed to be the truant husband returned.           few weeks ago,” continued Georgie, “and then left on Sunday
Elizabeth was approaching, all smiles; surely they would have        because of your Council meeting, and then you couldn’t leave
a few words together, and she would introduce them, but              Tilling the other day because of Miss Leg. Olga’s beginning to
Lucia and the tall man instantly crossed the road. It was all        realize, don’t you think, how busy you are—What’s the mat-
very odd: Lucia and Irene would not come to tea at the Mapp-         ter?”
Flints, and the Wyses had not asked her to dinner, and Diva              Lucia had sprung to her feet.
had refused to go to tea at Grebe, and Elizabeth had not pro-
duced the Corporation plate and the Mayor’s book. She began          “Leg’s motor coming up the street,” she said. “Georgie, stand
to wonder whether the Mapp-Flints were not some species              at the door, and, if I waggle my thumb at you, fly into the
of pariah whom nobody would know. This was a dreadful                house and tell Grosvenor I’m at home. If I turn it down—those
thought; perhaps she had got into wrong hands, and, while            Roman gladiators—still fly, but tell her I’m out. It all depends
they clutched her, Tilling held aloof. She remembered quite          on whether Elizabeth is with her. I’ll explain afterwards.”
  Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                        E. F. Benson
                                                                     71
 Lucia slid behind the window-curtain, and Georgie stood at               her second bun, Lucia had rung up the Serjeant at the Town
the door, ready to fly. There came a violent waggling of his              Hall, and asked him to get out the Corporation plate and
wife’s thumb, and he sped into the house. He came flying                  the Mayor’s book, for she would be bringing round a distin-
back again, and Lucia motioned him to the piano, on the                   guished visitor very shortly: and before Miss Leg had ad-
music-stand of which she had already placed a familiar Mo-                mired the plate and signed the book (“Susan Leg” and below,
zart duet, “Quick! Top of the page,” she said. “Uno, due, tre.            “Rudolph da Vinci”), she had engaged herself to dine at Mal-
Pom. Perfect!”                                                            lards next day. “Just a few friends,” said Lucia, “who would
                                                                          be so much honoured to meet you.” She did not ask Elizabeth
 They played half a dozen brilliant bars, and Grosvenor
                                                                          and Benjy, for Miss Leg had seen so much of them lately, but,
opened the door and said, “Miss Leg”. Lucia took no notice
                                                                          for fear they should feel neglected, she begged them to come
but continued playing, till Grosvenor said “Miss Leg!” much
                                                                          in afterwards for a cup of coffee and a chat. Elizabeth inter-
louder, and then, with a musical exclamation of surprise, she
                                                                          preted this as an insult rather than an invitation, and she and
turned and rose from her seat.
                                                                          Benjy had coffee and a vivacious chat by themselves.
 “Ah, Miss Leg, so pleased!” she said, drawling frightfully.
                                                                          The party was very gay, and a quantity of little anecdotes
“How- de-do? Have you met Miss Leg, Georgie? Ah, yes, I
                                                                          were told about the absentees. At the end of most of them
think you saw her at Diva’s one afternoon. Georgie, tell some-
                                                                          Lucia cried out:
body that Miss Leg— you will, won’t you—will stop to tea
… My little garden- room, which you may have noticed from                  “Ah, you mustn’t be so ill-natured about them,” and some-
outside. I’m told that they call it the Star Chamber—”                    times she told another. It was close on midnight when the
                                                                          gathering broke up, and they were all bidden to dine with
Miss Leg looked up at the ceiling, as if expecting to see the
                                                                          Miss Leg the next night.
hosts of heaven depicted there.
                                                                          “Such a pleasant evening, may I say ‘Lucia?’” said she on the
“Indeed. Why do they call it that?” she asked.
                                                                          doorstep, as she put up her round red face for the Mayor to
 Lucia had, of course, just invented that name for the garden-            deal with as she liked.
room herself. She waved her hand at the pile of Departmental
                                                                          “Indeed do, dear Susan,” she said. “But I think you must be
tin boxes.
                                                                          Susanna. Will you? We have one dear Susan already.”
 “Secrets of municipal business,” she said lightly. “The Cabal,
                                                                          They kissed.
you know: Arlington, Bolingbroke … Shall we go out into the
garden, until tea is ready? A tiny little plot, but so dear to me,
the red brick walls, the modest little house.”
“You bought it quite lately from Mrs. Mapp-Flint, I under-
stand,” said Miss Leg.
Clever Lucia at once guessed that Elizabeth had given her
version of that.
 “Yes, poor thing,” she said. “I was so glad to be able to get
her out of her difficulties. It used to belong to an aunt of
hers by marriage. What a state it was in! The garden a jungle
of weeds, but I am reclaiming it. And here’s my little secret
garden: when I am here and the door is shut, I am not to be
disturbed by anybody. Busy folk, like you and me, you with
your marvellous creative work, and me with my life so full of
interruptions, must have some inviolable sanctuary, must we
not? … Some rather fine hollyhocks.”
“Charming!” said Miss Leg, who was disposed to hate Lucia
with her loftiness and her Star Chamber, but still thought she
might be the Key to Tilling. “I have a veritable grove of them
at my little cottage in the country. There was a beautiful study
of hollyhocks at your little exhibition. By Miss Coles, I think
Mrs. Mapp-Flint said.”
Lucia laughed gaily.
“Oh, my sweet, muddle-headed Mayoress!” she cried. “Geor-
gie, did you hear? Elizabeth told Miss Leg that my picture of
hollyhocks was by Irene. So like her. Tea ready?”
 Harmony ripened. Miss Leg expressed her great admiration
for Irene’s portrait of Lucia, and her withering scorn for the
Venus, and promised to pay another visit to study the features
of the two principal figures: she had been so disgusted with
the picture that one glance was enough. Before she had eaten

                                                              Chapter X
                                                                    72
Chapter XI                                                           “Now you’re getting mixed, Elizabeth,” protested Diva. “It
                                                                     was Leg’s mind you suggested was poisoned, not you.”
                                                                      “That’s a quibble, dear,” said Elizabeth decidedly. “You’ll
                                                                     hardly deny that Benjy and I were most civil to the woman.


G
           eorgie continued to be tactless about Olga’s mani-        I even asked Lucia and Irene to meet her, which was going a
           fold perfections, and though his chaste passion for       long way considering Lucia’s conduct about the Corporation
           her did not cause Lucia the smallest anxiety (she         plate and the Mayor’s book. But I couldn’t have stood Leg
knew Georgie too well for that) she wondered what Tilling            much longer, and I should have had to drop her … I must
would make of his coming visit to Le Touquet without her.            be off; so busy to-day, like Worship. A Council meeting this
Her native effrontery had lived the Poppy-crisis down, but           afternoon.”
her rescue of Susan Leg, like some mature Andromeda, from
the clutches of her Mayoress, had raised the deepest animos-          Lucia always enjoyed her Council meetings. She liked pre-
ity of the Mapp-Flints, and she was well aware that Elizabeth        siding, she liked being suave and gracious and deeply con-
would embrace every opportunity to be nasty. She was there-          scious of her own directing will. As she took her seat to-day,
fore prepared for trouble, but, luckily for her peace of mind,       she glanced at the wall behind her, where before long Irene’s
she had no notion what a tempest of tribulation was gathering        portrait of her would be hanging. Minutes of the previous
… Georgie and Foljambe left by a very early train for Seaport        meeting were read, reports from various committees were
so that he might secure a good position amidships on the             received, discussed and adopted. The last of these was that of
boat, for the motion was felt less there, before the continental     the Committee which had been appointed to make its recom-
express from London arrived, and each of them had a tube of          mendation to the Council about her portrait. She had thought
cachets preventive of sea-sickness.                                  over a well-turned sentence or two: she would say what a
                                                                     privilege it was to make this work of genius the permanent
Elizabeth popped into Diva’s for a chat that morning.                possession of the Borough. Miss Coles, she need hardly
 “They’ve gone,” she said. “I’ve just met Worship. She was           remind the Council was a Tillingite of whom they were all
looking very much worried, poor thing, and I’m sure I don’t          proud, and the painter also of the Picture of the Year, in which
wonder.”                                                             there figured two of Tilling’s most prominent citizens, one
Diva had left off her eyebrows. They took too long, and she          being a highly honoured member of the Council. (“And then
was tired of always looking surprised when, as on this occa-         I shall bow to Elizabeth,” thought Lucia, “she will appreciate
sion, she was not surprised.                                         that.”)

“I suppose you mean about Mr. Georgie going off alone,” she              She looked at the agenda.
said.                                                                 “And now we come to our last business, ladies and gentle-
“Among other worries. Benjy and I both grieve for her. Mr.           men,” she said. “To receive the report of the Committee on the
Georgie’s infatuation is evidently increasing. First of all there    Mayor’s offer of a portrait of herself to the Council, to be hung
was that night here—”                                                in the Town Hall.”
“No: Lucia came back,” said Diva.                                        Elizabeth rose.
 “Never quite cleared up, I think. And then he’s been staying         “As Chairman of this Committee,” she said, “it is my duty to
at Riseholme without her, unless you’re going to tell me that        say that we came to the unanimous conclusion that we cannot
Worship went over every evening and returned at cock-crow            recommend the Council to accept the Mayor’s most generous
for her duties here.”                                                gift.”
“Olga asked them both, anyhow,” said Diva.                            The gracious sovereignty of Lucia’s demeanour did not suffer
 “So we’ve been told, but did she? And this time Lucia’s cer-        the smallest diminution.
tainly not been asked. It’s mounting up, and it must be terrible      “Those in favour of accepting the findings of the Commit-
for her. All that we feared at first is coming true, as I knew it    tee?” she asked. “Unanimous, I think.”
would. And I don’t believe for a moment that he’ll come back
                                                                      Never, in all Lucia’s triumphant career, had she suffered
at the end of a week.”
                                                                     so serious a reverse, nor one out of which it seemed more
“That would be humiliating,” said Diva.                              impossible to reap some incidental advantage. She had been
“Far be it from me to insinuate that there’s anything wrong,”        dismissed from Sheffield Castle at the shortest notice, but
continued Elizabeth emphatically, “but if I was Lucia I              she had got a harvest of photographs. Out of her inability to
shouldn’t like it, any more than I should like it if you and         find the brake on her bicycle, thus madly scorching through
Benjy went for a week and perhaps more to Le Touquet.”               a crowded street, she had built herself a monument for dash
                                                                     and high athletic prowess. She always discovered silver lin-
“And I shouldn’t like it either,” said Diva. “But I’m sorry for
                                                                     ings to the blackest of clouds, but now, scrutinize them as she
Lucia, too.”
                                                                     might, she could detect in them none but the most sombre
 “I daresay she’ll need our sympathy before long,” said              hues. Her imagination had worked out a dazzling future
Elizabeth darkly. “And how truly grateful I am to her for            for this portrait. It would hang on the wall behind her; the
taking that Leg woman off my hands. Such an incubus. How             Corporation, at her request, would lend it (heavily insured)
she managed it I don’t enquire. She may have poisoned Leg’s          to the Royal Academy exhibition next May, where it would
mind about me, but I should prefer to be poisoned than see           be universally acclaimed as a masterpiece far outshining the
much more of her.”                                                   Venus of the year before. It would be lithographed or mezzo-
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                        E. F. Benson
                                                                    73
tinted, and she would sign the first fifty pulls. Visitors would         Diva’s, and exhibit herself as being in cheerful or even exuber-
flock to the Town Hall to see it; they would recognise her as            ant spirits. Just opposite the door was drawn up a monstrous
she flashed by them on her bicycle or sat sketching at some              motor, behind which was strapped a dress-basket and other
picturesque corner; admiring the mellow front of Mallards,               substantial luggage with the initials P.S. on them. “A big post-
the ancestral home of the Mayor, they would be thrilled to               script,” thought Lucia, lightening her heavy heart with hu-
know that the pianist, whose exquisite strains floated out of            morous fancies, and she skirted round behind this ponderous
the open window of the garden- room, was the woman whose                 conveyance, and so on to the pavement. Two women were just
portrait they just seen above her official chair. Such thoughts          stepping out of ye olde tea-shop: one was Elizabeth dripping
as these were not rigidly defined but floated like cloud-castles         with unctuous smiles, and the other was Poppy Sheffield.
in the sky, forming and shifting and always elegant.                      “And here’s sweet Worship herself,” said Elizabeth. “Just in
 Now of those fairy edifices there was nothing left. The Venus           time to see you. How fortunate!”
was to be exhibited at the Carlton Gallery and then perhaps               Some deadly misgiving stirred in Lucia’s heart as Poppy
to form a gem in the collection of some American millionaire,            turned on her a look of blank unrecognition. But she managed
and Elizabeth would go out into all lands and Benjy to the               to emit a thin cry of welcome.
ends of the earth, while her own rejected portrait would be
returned to Mallards, with the best thanks of the Commit-                 “Dear Duchess!” she said. “How naughty of you to come
tee, like Georgie’s sunny morning on the marsh, and Susan’s              to my little Tilling without letting me know. It was au revoir
budgerigar, and Diva’s sardine tartlet. (And where on earth              when we parted last.”
should she hang this perpetual reminder of defeated dreams?)             Poppy still seemed puzzled, and then (unfortunately, per-
… Another aspect of this collapse struck her. She had always             haps) she began to remember.
thought of herself as the beneficent director of municipal
action, but now the rest of her Council had expressed unani-             “Why, of course!” she said. “You came to see me at the Castle,
mous agreement with the report of a small malignant Com-                 owing to some stupid misunderstanding. My abominable
mittee, instead of indignantly rallying round her and express-           memory. Do tell me your name.”
ing their contempt of such base ingratitude. This was a snub              “Lucia Pillson,” said the wretched woman. “Mayor of Till-
to which she saw no possible rejoinder except immediate                  ing.”
resignation of her office, but that would imply that she felt the
                                                                          “Yes, how it all comes back,” said Poppy, warmly shaking
snub, which was not to be thought of. Besides, if her resigna-
                                                                         hands. “That was it. I thought your husband was the Mayor of
tion was accepted, there would be nothing left at all.
                                                                         Tilling, and I was expecting him. Quite. So stupid of me. And
 Her pensive steps, after the Council meeting was over, had              then tea and photographs, wasn’t it? I trust they came out
brought her to the garden-room, and the bright japanned                  well.”
faces of tin-boxes labelled “Museum”, “Fire Brigade” or
                                                                         “Beautifully. Do come up to my house—only a step—and I’ll
“Burial Board” gave her no comfort: their empty expressions
                                                                         show you them.”
seemed to mock her. Had Georgie been here, she could have
confided the tragedy to him without loss of dignity. He would             “Alas! not a moment to spare. I’ve spent such a long time
have been sympathetic in the right sort of way: he would                 chatting to all your friends. Somebody—somebody called Leg,
have said “My dear, how tar’some! That foul Elizabeth: of                I think— introduced them to me. She said she had been to my
course she was at the bottom of it. Let’s think of some plan             house in London which I daresay was quite true. One never
to serve her out.” But without that encouragement she was                can tell. But I’m catching, at least I hope so, the evening boat
too flattened out to think of Elizabeth at all. The only thing           at Seaport on my way to stay with Olga Bracely at Le Touquet.
she could do was to maintain, once more, her habitual air of             Such a pleasure to have met you again.”
prosperous self-sufficiency. She shuddered at the thought of             Lucia presented a brave front.
Tilling being sorry for her, because, communing with herself,
she seemed to sense below this superficial pity, some secret             “Then do come and dine and sleep here to break your journey
satisfaction that she had had a knock. Irene, no doubt, would            on your return,” she said. “I shall expect you to propose your-
be wholly sincere, but though her prestige as an artist had              self at any time, like all my friends. Just a wire or a telephone
suffered indignity, what difference would it make to her that            call. Georgie and I are sure to be here. Impossible for me to
the Town Council of Tilling had rejected her picture, when the           get away in these crowded months—”
Carlton Gallery in London had craved the loan of her Venus,               “That WOULD be nice,” said Poppy. “Good-bye: Mrs. Pillson,
and an American millionaire was nibbling for its purchase?               isn’t it? Quite. Charmed, I’m sure: so pleasant. Drive straight
Irene would treat it as a huge joke; perhaps she would design            on to the quay at Seaport,” she called to her chauffeur.
a Christmas card showing Mapp, as a nude, mature, female
                                                                         Lucia kissed her hand after the car.
Cupid, transfixing Benjy’s heart with a riding-whip. For a mo-
ment, as this pleasing fantasy tickled Lucia’s brain, she smiled          “How lucky just to have caught her for a moment,” she
wanly. But the smile faded again: not the grossest insult to             drawled to Elizabeth, as they went back into ye olde tea-
Elizabeth would mend matters. A head held high and a total               house. “Naughty of her not to have let me know. How dread-
unconsciousness that anything disagreeable had happened                  fully bad her memory is becoming.”
was the only course worthy of the Mayor.                                 “Shocking,” said Elizabeth. “You should persuade her to see
The Council meeting had been short, for no reports from                  somebody about it.”
Committees (especially the last) had raised controversy, and             Lucia turned on the full horse-power of her courage for the
Lucia stepped briskly down the hill to have tea in public at
                                                            Chapter XI
                                                                     74
coming encounter in ye olde tea-house. The moment she saw             had let slip on the doorstep, but perhaps the sooner that was
the faces of her friends assembled there, Evie and Leg and            known the better. After drinking her tea and scalding her
Diva, she knew she would need it all.                                 mouth she rose.
 “You’ve just missed an old friend, Lucia,” said Susanna. (Was        “I must be off,” she said. “See you again very soon, Susanna.
there in her words a touch of the irony for which Rudolph da          One and sixpence, Diva? Such a lovely tea.”
Vinci was celebrated?)                                                    Elizabeth continued smiling till the door closed.
 “Too unfortunate, dear Susanna,” said Lucia. “But I just got a        “Such odd things happened outside,” she said. Her Poppy
word with her. Off to stay at Le Touquet, she said. Ah! I never       didn’t recognise her. She asked her who she was. And Wor-
told her she would find Georgie there. My memory is getting           ship wasn’t invited to Sheffield Castle at all. Poppy thought
as bad as hers. Diva, may I have a one and sixpenny?”                 that Mr. Georgie was the Mayor, and the invitation was for
Diva usually went down to the kitchen to see to the serving           him. That was why Worship came back so soon.”
of a one and sixpenny, but she only called the order down the             “Gracious, what a crash!” said Diva.
stairs to Janet. And her face lacked its usual cordiality.
                                                                       “It always comes in time,” said Elizabeth thoughtfully. “Poor
“You’ve missed such a nice chat,” she said.                           thing, we must be very gentle with her, but what a lot of
 There was a silence pregnant with trouble. It was impos-             things we must avoid talking about!”
sible, thought Lucia, that her name should not have figured               She enumerated them on her plump fingers.
in the nice chat, or that Poppy should not have exhibited that
distressing ignorance about her which had been so evident              “Duchesses, Castles, photographs—I wonder if they were pic-
outside. In any case Elizabeth would soon promulgate the              ture postcards—prima-donnas, for I’m sure she’d have gone
news with the addition of that hideous detail, as yet undiscov-       to Le Touquet, if she had been asked—portraits—it was my
ered, that she had been asked to Sheffield Castle only because        duty to recommend the Council not to accept that daub—gad-
Poppy thought that Georgie was Mayor of Tilling. Brave                about husbands— I havn’t got enough fingers. Such a lot of
cheerfulness was the only possible demeanour.                         subjects that would tear old wounds open, and she’s brought
                                                                      it all on herself, which makes it so much more bitter for her.”
“Too unfortunate,” she repeated, “and I could have been here
half an hour ago, for we had quite a short Council meeting.           Diva, who hated waste (and nothing would keep in this hot
Nothing controversial: all went so smoothly—”                         weather) ate Lucia’s sardine-tartlet.
The memory of that uncontroversial rejection of her portrait          “Don’t gloat, Elizabeth!” she commanded. “You may say
brought her up short. Then the sight of Elizabeth’s wistful,          sympathetic things, but there’s a nasty tone in the way you
softly smiling face lashed her forward again.                         say them. I’m really rather sorry for her.”
 “How you will laugh, Susanna,” she said brightly, “when I            “Which is just what I have been trying to express,” retorted
tell you that the Council unanimously refused to accept my            Elizabeth.
gift of the portrait Irene painted of me which you admired so         “Then you haven’t expressed it well. Not that impression at
much. A small Committee advised them against it. And ecco!”           all. Goodness, here’s a fresh party coming in. Janet!”
 Susanna’s laugh lacked the quality of scorn and contempt for          Lucia passed by the fishmonger’s, and some stir of subcon-
the Council, for which Lucia had hoped. It sounded amused.            scious cerebration prompted her to order a dressed crab that
 “Well, that was a pity,” she said. “They just didn’t like it. But    she saw in the window. Then she went home and out into the
you can’t get people to like what they don’t like by telling          garden-room. This second blow falling so fast on the heels of
them that they ought to.”                                             the first, caused her to reel. To all the dismal reflections occa-
                                                                      sioned by the rejection of her portrait there were added those
The base desertion was a shock. Lucia looked without favour           appropriate to the second, and the composite mental picture
at the sumptuous one and sixpenny Janet had brought her,              presented by the two was appalling. Surely some malignant
but her voice remained calm.                                          Power, specially dedicated to the service of her discomfiture,
“I think I was wrong to have offered it them at all,” she said.       must have ordained the mishaps (and their accurate tim-
“I ought to have known that they could not understand it.             ing) of this staggering afternoon: the malignant Power was a
What fun Irene and I will have over it when I tell her. I can         master of stage-craft. Who could stand up against a relentless
hear her scream ‘Philistines! Vandals!’ and burst into shrieks        tragedian? Lucia could not, and two tears of self-pity rolled
of laughter. And what a joy to have it back at Mallards again!”       down her cheeks. She was much surprised to feel their tick-
                                                                      ling progress, for she had always thought herself incapable of
Elizabeth continued to smile.
                                                                      such weakness, but there they were. The larger one fell on to
“No place like home is there, dear?” she said. “Where will            her blotting-pad, and she dashed the smaller aside.
you hang it?”
                                                                       She pulled herself together. Whatever humiliations were
 Lucia gave up the idea of eating her sardine-tartlet. She had        heaped on her, her resolve to continue sprightly and domi-
intended to stay on, until Susanna and Elizabeth left, and find       nant and unsubdued was as firm as ever, and she must swal-
out from Diva what had been said about her before she came            low pity or contempt without apparently tasting them. She
in. She tried a few light topics of general interest, evoking         went to her piano, and through a slightly blurred vision had
only short replies of paralyzing politeness. This atmosphere          a good practice at the difficult treble part of the duet Georgie
of veiled hostility was undermining her. She knew that if she         and she had run through before his departure. She did a few
went away first, Elizabeth would pour out all that Poppy              bracing physical exercises, and a little deep breathing. “I have
 Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                          E. F. Benson
                                                                          75
lost a great deal of prestige,” she said to herself as she held                “So lonely for you, Worship, all by yourself without Mr. Geor-
her breath and puffed it out again, “but that shall not upset                  gie,” she said. “Pop in and dine with us to-night.”
me. I shall recover it all. In a fortnight’s time, if not less, I shall         Lucia could have sung aloud to think how soon that kindly
be unable to believe that I could ever have felt so abject and                 pity would be struck from the Mayoress’s face. She pressed a
have behaved so weakly. Sursum corda! I shall—”                                finger to her forehead.
 Her telephone-bell rang. It required a strong call on her
                                                                                “Let me think,” she said. “I’m afraid … No, that’s tomorrow
courage to answer it, for who could tell what fresh calamity
                                                                               … Yes, I am free. Charmed.” She paused, prolonging the an-
might not be sprung on her? When she heard the name of
                                                                               ticipation of the wonderful disclosure.
the speaker, she nearly rang off, for it seemed so impossible.
Probably some infamous joke was being played on her. But                        “And I had such a queer little surprise last night,” she
she listened.                                                                  drawled. “I went home after tea at Diva’s,—of course you
                                                                               were there—and played my piano a while. Then the eternal
 “I’ve just missed my boat,” said the voice, “and sleeping
                                                                               telephone rang. Who do you think it was who wanted to dine
in a hotel makes me ill for a week. Would you be wonder-
                                                                               and sleep at such short notice?”
fully kind and let me dine and sleep? You were so good as to
suggest that this afternoon. Then I can catch the early boat                    Elizabeth curbed her longing to say “Duchess Poppy,” but
to-morrow.”                                                                    that would have been too unkind and sarcastic.
A sob of joy rose in Lucia’s throat.                                           “Tell me, dear,” she said.
“Delighted, Duchess,” she answered. “So glad you took me at                     “The Duchess,” said Lucia. “I begged her, do you remember,
my word and proposed yourself.”                                                when we three met for a minute yesterday, just to propose
“Many thanks. I shall be with you in an hour or so.”                           herself … And an hour afterwards, she did. Dear vague thing!
                                                                               She missed her boat and can’t bear hotels and telephoned. A
Lucia skipped to the bell, and kept her finger on it till Grosve-
                                                                               pleasant quiet evening. She went off again very early to-day,
nor came running out.
                                                                               to catch the morning boat. I wonder if she’ll succeed this time.
 “Grosvenor, the Duchess of Sheffield will be here in about an                 Eight o’clock this evening then? I shall look forward to it.”
hour to dine and sleep,” cried Lucia, still ringing. “What is
                                                                                Lucia went into a shop, leaving Elizabeth speechless on the
there for dinner?”
                                                                               pavement, with her mouth wide open. Then she closed it, and
“Couldn’t say, except for a dressed crab that’s just come in—”                 it assumed its grimmest aspect. She began to cross the street,
began Grosvenor.                                                               but leaped back to the pavement again on the violent hooting,
 “Yes, I ordered it,” cried Lucia excitedly, ceasing to ring. “It              almost in her ear, of Susan’s Royce.
was instinctive, Grosvenor, it was a leading. Things like that                  “So sorry if it made you jump,” said Susan, putting her face
often happen to me. See what else, and plenty of strong cof-                   out of the window, “but I hear that Lucia’s Duchess was here
fee.”                                                                          yesterday and didn’t know her from Adam. Or Eve. Either of
Grosvenor went into the house, and the music of triumphant                     them. Can it be true?”
meditations poured through Lucia’s brain.                                      “I was there,” said Elizabeth. “She hadn’t the slightest idea
 “Shall I ask Benjy and Elizabeth?” she thought. “That would                   who Worship was.”
crush Elizabeth for ever, but I don’t really wish her such a fate.
                                                                               “That’s odd, considering all those photographs.”
Diva? No. A good little thing, but it might seem odd to Poppy
to meet at dinner a woman to whom she had paid a shilling                       “These’s something odder yet,” said Elizabeth. “Worship has
for her tea, or perhaps eighteen-pence. Susanna Leg? No: she                   just told me she had a visitor to dine and sleep, who left very
was not at all kind about the picture. Shall I send for the May-               early this morning. Guess who that was!”
or’s book and get Poppy to write in it? Again, no. It would                    “I never can guess, as you know,” said Susan. “Who?”
look as if I wanted to record her visit officially, whereas she
only just drops in. We will be alone, I think. Far more chic.”                 “She!” cried Elizabeth shrilly. “And Lucia had the face to tell
                                                                               me so!”
Grosvenor returned with the modest menu, and Lucia added
a savoury.                                                                     Mr. Wyse, concealed behind the immense bulk of his wife,
                                                                               popped his head round the corner of her shoulder. The May-
“And I shan’t dress, Grosvenor,” she said. “Her Grace (rich
                                                                               oress’s savage countenance so terrified him that he popped it
words!) will be leaving very early, and she won’t want to
                                                                               back again.
unpack, I expect.”
                                                                                “How Worship’s conscience will let her tell such whop-
 Her Grace arrived. She seemed surprised not to find Georgie
                                                                               pers, is her concern and not mine, thank God,” continued
there, but was pleased to know that he was staying with Olga
                                                                               the Mayoress. “What I deplore is that she should think me
at Le Touquet. She went to bed very soon after dinner, and left
                                                                               idiotic enough to believe them. Does one woman ask another
at eight next morning. Never had Lucia waited so impatiently
                                                                               woman, whom she doesn’t know by sight, to let her dine and
for the shopping hour, when casually, drawlingly she would
                                                                               sleep? DOES she?”
diffuse the news.
 The first person she met was Elizabeth herself, who hurried                   Mr. Wyse always refused to be drawn into social crises.
across the street with an odious smile of kindly pity on her                   “Drive on,” he said in a low voice down the speaking-tube,
face.                                                                          and the car hooted and moved away. Elizabeth screamed
                                                                               “DOES she,” after it.
                                                                  Chapter XI
                                                                     76
 The news spread fast, and there was only one verdict on it.           “I heard from Georgie to-day,” said Lucia. “He’ll be back
Obviously Lucia had invented the story to counter the morti-          from Le Touquet on Saturday. The house was quite full
fication of being unrecognised by Poppy the day before. “So           already, he said, and he didn’t know where Olga would put
silly,” said Diva, when Elizabeth plunged into the tea-house          another guest.”
and told her. “Much better to have lived it down. We’ve all            “Such lovely September weather,” said Elizabeth. “So good
got to live things down sometimes. She’s only made it much            for the crops.”
harder for herself. What’s the good of telling lies which no-
body can believe? When you and I tell lies, Elizabeth, it’s in         Lucia was faintly puzzled. They had all been so eager to hear
the hope anyhow—What is it Janet?”                                    about her visit to Sheffield Castle, and now whenever she
                                                                      brought up kindred topics, Elizabeth or Diva changed the
“Please ma’am, Grosvenor’s just told me there was a visitor at
                                                                      subject with peculiar abruptness. Very likely Elizabeth was a
Mallards last night, and who do you think—”
                                                                      little jealous, a little resentful that Lucia had not asked her to
“Yes, I’ve heard,” said Diva. “I’ll be down in the kitchen in a       dine last night. But she could explain that.
minute.”
                                                                      “It was too late, alas,” she said, “to get up a small party,” she
“And making poor Grosvenor her accomplice,” said Eliza-               said, “as I should have so much liked to do. Simply no time.
beth. “Come and dine to-night, Diva. I’ve asked Worship, and          We didn’t even dress.”
you must help Benjy and me to get through the evening. You
must help us to keep her off the subject, or I shall lose my self-        Elizabeth rose.
control and forget that I’m a lady and tell her she’s a liar.”        “Such a short visit,” she said, “and breakfast at half-past
 Lucia spent a wonderfully happy day. She came straight               seven. Fancy! Let us have a rubber, as we needn’t get up so
home after telling Elizabeth her news, for it was far more lofty      early to- morrow.”
not to spread it herself and give the impression that she was          Lucia walked home in the bright moonlight, making benevo-
gratified, and devoted herself to her music and her reading, as       lent plans. If Poppy broke her return journey by staying a
there was no municipal business to occupy her. Long before            night here she must certainly have a party.
evening everyone would know, and she would merely make
                                                                       She vaguely regretted not having done so last night: it would
casual allusions at dinner to her visitor, and inflame their
                                                                      have given pleasure, and she ought to welcome all opportuni-
curiosity. She went out wearing her seed-pearls in the highest
                                                                      ties of making treats for her friends … They were touchy folk;
spirits.
                                                                      to- night they had been harsh with each other over Bridge,
“Dear host and hostess,” she said as she swept in. “So sweet          but to her they had been scrupulously polite, receiving all her
of you to take compassion on my loneliness. No, Major Benjy,          criticisms of their play in meek silence. Perhaps they were
no sherry thanks, though I really deserve some after my long          beginning to perceive at last that she was a different class of
day. Breakfast at half-past seven—”                                   player from them. As she caressed this vainglorious thought,
“Fancy! That was early!” interrupted Elizabeth. Diva entered.         she stopped to admire the chaste whiteness of the moonlight
                                                                      on the church-tower, which seemed to point skywards as if
“So sorry,” she said. “A bit late. Fearfully busy afternoon.
                                                                      towards her own serene superiority among the stars. Then
Worn out. Yes, Major Benjy: just half a glass.”
                                                                      quite suddenly a violent earthquake happened in her mind,
“I was just saying that I had had a long day, too,” said Lucia.       and it collapsed.
“My guest was off at eight to catch the early boat at Sea-
port—”                                                                “They don’t believe that Poppy ever stayed with me at all,”
                                                                      she moaned. “They think I invented it. Infamous!”
 “Such a good service,” put in Benjy. “Liz and I went by that
route on our honeymoon.”
“—and would get to Le Touquet in time for lunch.”
“Well, dinner, dinner,” said Benjy, and in they went.
“I’ve not seen Susan Leg to-day,” remarked Diva. “She usu-
ally drops in to tea now.”
“She’s been writing hard,” said Elizabeth. “I popped in for a
minute. She’s got some material NOW, she told me.”
 This dark saying had a bright lining for Lucia. Her optimistic
mind concluded that Susanna knew about her visitor, and she
laughed gaily as dressed crab was handed to her.
 “Such a coincidence,” she said. “Last night I had ordered
dressed crab before—dear Elizabeth, I never get tired of it—
before I was rung up from Seaport. Was not that lucky? Her
favourite food.”
“And how many teas did you say you served to-day, Diva?”
asked Elizabeth.
“Couldn’t tell you yet. Janet hadn’t finished counting up.
People still in the garden when I left.”
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                           E. F. Benson
                                                                   77
Chapter XII                                                             plane might crash and he would be burned to death. She rea-
                                                                        lised that such thoughts were of the most morbid nature, and
                                                                        wondered if a glass of sherry would disperse them. But she
                                                                        resisted. “I won’t risk becoming like Major Benjy,” she said to


F
         or the whole of the next day no burgess of Tilling,            herself, “and I’ve got to stick it alone till Monday.”
         except Mrs. Simpson and the domestic staff, set eyes            The hours crept dismally by: she had lunch, tea and dinner by
         on the Mayor. By a strong effort of will Lucia took up         herself. One fragment of news reached her through Grosvenor
her market-basket after breakfast with the intention of shop-           and that was not encouraging. Her cook had boasted to Eliza-
ping, but looking out from the window of her hall, she saw              beth’s parlour-maid that she had cooked dinner for a Duchess,
Elizabeth on the pavement opposite, sketching the front of              and the parlour-maid with an odd laugh, had advised her not
the ancestral house of her aunt by marriage. She could not              to be so sure about that. Cook had returned in a state of high
face Elizabeth yet, for that awful mental earthquake in the             indignation, which possibly she had expressed by saturating
churchyard last night had shattered her nerve. The Mayor was            Lucia’s soup with pepper, and putting so much mustard into
a self-ordained prisoner in her own house, as Popes had been            her devilled chicken that it might have been used as a plaster
at the Vatican.                                                         for the parlour-maid. Perhaps these fiery substances helped to
 She put down her basket and went back into the garden-                 kindle Lucia again materially, and all day psychical stimulants
room. She must show Elizabeth though not by direct encoun-              were at work: pride which refused to surrender, the extreme
ter, that she was happy and brilliant and busy. She went to her         boredom of being alone, and the consciousness of rectitude.
piano and began practising scales. Arpeggios and roulades               So next morning, after making sure that Elizabeth was not
of the most dazzling kind followed. Slightly exhausted by               lurking about, Lucia set forth with her market-basket. Irene
this fine display she crept behind the curtain and peered out.          was just coming out of her house, and met her with a grave
Elizabeth was still there, and, in order to continue the impres-        and sympathetic face.
sion of strenuous artistic activity, Lucia put on a gramophone          “Darling, I am so sorry about it,” she said.
record of the Moonlight Sonata. At the conclusion of that she            Lucia naturally supposed that she was referring to the rejec-
looked out again; Elizabeth had gone. It was something to               tion of the portrait.
have driven that baleful presence away from the immediate
neighbourhood, but it had only taken its balefulness else-               “Don’t give it another thought,” she said. “It will be such a
where. She remembered how Susanna had said with regard                  joy to have it at Mallards. They’re all Goths and Vandals and
to the rejected portrait (which no longer seemed to matter an           Elizabeths.”
atom) “You can’t get people to like what they don’t like by             “Oh that!” said Irene. “Who cares? Just wait till I’ve touched
telling them that they ought to”; and now a parallel aphorism           up Elizabeth and Benjy for the Carlton Gallery. No, about this
suggested itself to Lucia’s harassed brain.                             septic Duchess. Why did you do it? So unwise!”
 “You can’t get people to believe what they won’t believe by            Lucia wondered if some fresh horror had ripened, and her
telling them that it’s true,” she whispered to herself. “Yet            mouth went dry.
Poppy did stay here: she did, she did! And it’s TOO unfair              “Why did I do what?” she asked.
that I should lose more prestige over that, when I ought to
have recovered all that I had lost … What is it, Grosvenor?”            “Say that she’d been to stay with you, when she didn’t even
                                                                        know you by sight. So futile!”
Grosvenor handed her a telegram.
                                                                        “But she did stay with me!” cried Lucia.
“Mr. Georgie won’t be back till Monday instead of Saturday,”
                                                                        “No, no,” said Irene soothingly. “Don’t go on saying it. It
said Lucia in a toneless voice. “Anything else?”
                                                                        wounds me. Naturally, you were vexed at her not recognising
 “Shall Cook do the shopping, ma’am, if you’re not going out?           you. You HAD seen her before somewhere, hadn’t you?”
It’s early closing.”                                                    “But this is preposterous!” cried Lucia. “You MUST believe
 “Yes. I shall be alone for lunch and dinner,” said Lucia, wish-        me. We had dressed crab for dinner. She went to bed early.
ing that it were possible for all human affairs to shut down            She slept in the spare room. She snored. We breakfasted at
with the shops.                                                         half-past-seven—”
She glanced at Georgie’s telegram again, amazed at its light-           “Darling, we won’t talk about it any more,” said Irene.
heartedness. “Having such fun,” it ran.                                 “Whenever you want me, I’ll come to you. Just send for me.”
“Olga insists I stop till Monday. Know you won’t mind. De-              “I shall want you,” said Lucia with awful finality, “when you
voted Georgie.”                                                         beg my pardon for not believing me.”
 She longed for devoted Georgie, and fantastic ideas born of             Irene uttered a dismal cry, and went back into her house. Lu-
pure misery darted through her head. She thought of reply-              cia with a face of stone went on to the High Street. As she was
ing: “Come back at once and stand by me. Nobody believes                leaving the grocer’s her basket bumped against Diva’s, who
that Poppy slept here.” She thought of asking the B.B.C. to             was entering.
broadcast an S.O.S.: “Will George Pillson last heard of to-day          “Sorry,” said Diva. “Rather in a hurry. My fault.”
at Le Touquet, return at once to Tilling where his wife the
                                                                        It was as if an iceberg, straight from the North Pole, had
Mayor—” No, she could not say she was dangerously ill. That
                                                                        apologized. Mr. Wyse was just stepping on to the pavement,
would alarm him; besides he would find on arrival that she
                                                                        and he stood hatless as she hailed him.
was perfectly well. He might even come by air, and then the
                                                           Chapter XII
                                                                    78
 “Lovely weather, isn’t it?” she said. “Georgie writes to me
that they’re having the same at Le Touquet. We must have             “Impossible to take any other view,” said Elizabeth. “A daub.
some more Bridge parties when he gets back.”                         We couldn’t have it in our beautiful Town Hall. And it didn’t
                                                                     do you justice, dear.”
 “You enjoy your Bridge so much, and play it so beautifully,”
said Mr. Wyse with a bow. “And, believe me, I shall never             “How interesting that you should say that!” said Lucia. “Dear
forget your kindness over Susan’s budgerigar.”                       Irene felt just that about her picture of you. She felt she had
                                                                     not put enough character into your face. She means to make
In Lucia’s agitated state, this sounded dreadfully like an           some little alterations in it before she sends it to the Carlton
assurance that, in spite of all, she hadn’t lost his friendship.     Galleries.”
Then with an accession of courage, she determined to stick to
her guns.                                                             That was alarming: Elizabeth remembered the “little altera-
                                                                     tions” Irene had made before. But she did not allow that to
“The Duchess’s visit to me was at such short notice,” she said,      unnerve her.
“that there was literally not time to get a few friends together.
She would so much have liked to see you and Susan.”                  “Sometimes I am afraid she will never rise to the level of her
                                                                     Venus again,” she sighed. “Her high-water mark. Her picture
 “Very good of you to say so. I—I heard that she had spent the       of you, for instance. It might have been out of Mr. Wyse’s
night under your hospitable roof. Ah! I see Susan beckoning          pieces of still life: bicycle, piano, packs of cards.”
to me.”
                                                                     “Some day when I can find time, I will explain to you the
 Lucia’s shopping had not raised her spirits, and when she           principles of symbolism,” Lucia promised.
went up the street again towards Mallards, there was Eliza-
beth on the pavement opposite, at her easel. But now the sight           Elizabeth saw her way to the desired topic.
of her braced Lucia. It flashed through her mind that her dear       “Thank you, dear,” she said fervently. “That would be a treat.
Mayoress had selected this subject for her sketch in order to        But I know how busy you are with all your duties and all your
keep an eye on her, to observe, as through a malicious micro-        entertaining. Have you had any more visitors to dine and
scope, her joyless exits and entrances and report to her friends     sleep and go away very early next morning before they had
how sad and wan she looked: otherwise Elizabeth would                seen anything of our lovely Tilling?”
never have attempted anything which required the power to
                                                                     The blow was wholly unexpected and it shook Lucia. She
draw straight lines and some knowledge, however elemen-
                                                                     pulled herself together.
tary, of perspective. All the more reason, then, that Lucia
should be at her very best and brightest and politest and most       “Let me think,” she said. “Such a succession of people drop-
withering.                                                           ping in. No! I think the dear Duchess was my last guest.”
Elizabeth out of the corner of her eye saw her approaching           “What a lovely evening you must have had,” said Elizabeth.
and kissed the top end of her paint-brush to her.                    “Two old friends together. How I love a tête-à-tête, just like
                                                                     what we’re having now with nobody to interrupt. Roaming
“Good morning, dear Worship,” she said. “Been shopping
                                                                     over all sorts of subjects, like bees sipping at flowers. How
and chatting with all your friends? Any news?”
                                                                     much you always teach me, Worship. Rose-madder and burnt
 “Good morning, sindaca mia,” she said. “That means Mayor-           sienna to give luminousness—”
ess, dear. Oh, what a promising sketch! But have you quite got
                                                                     Lucia clutched at the return of this topic, and surveyed Eliza-
the mellow tone of the bricks in my garden-room? I should
                                                                     beth’s sketch.
suggest just a touch of brown-madder.”
                                                                      “So glad to have given you that little tip,” she said. “Immense
Elizabeth’s paint-brush began to tremble.
                                                                     improvement, isn’t it? How the bricks glow now—”
“Thank you, dear,” she said. “Brown-madder. I must remem-
                                                                     “I haven’t put any madder on yet, brown or rose,” cooed
ber that.”
                                                                     Elizabeth, “but so glad to know about it. And is poor Duch-
“Or a little rose-madder mixed with burnt sienna would do            ess’s memory really as bad as it seemed? How dreadful for
as well,” continued Lucia. “Just stippled on. You will find that     you if she had forgotten her own name as well as yours.”
will give the glowing effect you want.”
                                                                     Quite suddenly Lucia knew that she had no more force left in
 Elizabeth wondered whether Lucia could have realised that           her. She could only just manage a merry laugh.
nobody in Tilling believed that Poppy had ever stayed with
                                                                      “What a delicious social crisis that would be!” she said. “You
her and yet remain so complacent and superior. She hoped to
                                                                     ought to send it to some comic paper. And what a pleasant
find an opportunity of introducing that topic. But she could
                                                                     talk we have had! I could stay here all morning chatting, but
find something to say on the subject of Art first.
                                                                     alas, I have a hundred arrears to get through. Addio, cara
“So lovely for quaint Irene to have had this great success with      sindaca.”
her picture of me,” she said. “The Carlton Gallery, she tells
                                                                      She walked without hurrying up the steps to her door and
me, and then perhaps an American purchaser. Such a pity that
                                                                     tottered out into the garden-room. Presently she crept to the
masterpieces have to leave the country. Luckily her picture of
                                                                     observation post behind the curtain and looked out. Benjy had
you is likely to remain here.”
                                                                     joined the Mayoress, and something she said caused him to
“That was a terrible set-back for Irene,” said Lucia, as glibly      laugh very heartily … And even devoted Irene did not believe
as if she had learned this dialogue by heart, “when your Com-        that Poppy had ever stayed here.
mittee induced the Council to reject it.”
                                                                         Next day was Sunday. As Lucia listened to the joyful peal of
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                          E. F. Benson
                                                                    79
the bells she wondered whether, without Georgie, she could               silly mistake I’ve made: of course it was the recipe for cream-
meet the fresh ordeal that awaited her, when after the ser-              wafers which Susanna’s chef gave you which made Paddy
vice Tilling society assembled outside the south porch of the            so unwell. Irene? You in church? Was it not a lovely sermon,
church for the Sunday morning chat which took the place of               all about thinking evil of your friends? Good morning, Major
the week-day shopping. To shirk that would be a tacit con-               Benjy. You must get poor Mr. Wyse to try your favourite cure
fession that she could not face her friends: she might just as           for colds. A tumbler of whisky, isn’t it, every two hours with a
well, from the social point of view, not go to church at all. But        little boiling water according to taste. Au revoir, dear ones. See
though the débâcle appeared so complete, she knew that her               you all to- morrow I hope.”
essential spirit was unbroken: it would be “given her,” she               She smiled and kissed her hand, and walked off without turn-
felt, to make that manifest in some convincing manner.                   ing her head, a little out of breath with this shattering elo-
 She sang very loud in the hymns and psalms, she winced                  quence, but rejoicing and rejuvenated.
when the organist had a slight misunderstanding with the                  “That WAS a pleasure,” she said to herself, “and to think that
choir, she let ecclesiastical smiles play over her face when she         I was ever terrified of meeting them! What a coward! I don’t
found herself in sympathy with the doctrine of the curate’s              think I left anybody out: I insulted each one in the presence of
sermon, she gave liberally to the offertory. When the service            all the rest. That’s what they get for not believing that Poppy
was over she waited outside the south porch. Elizabeth fol-              stayed here, and for thinking that I was down and out. I’ve
lowed close behind, and behind Elizabeth were other familiar             given them something else to think about. I’ve paid them
faces. Lucia felt irresistibly reminded of the hymn she had              back, thank God, and now we’ll see what will happen next.”
just been singing about the hosts of Midian who ‘prowled and
prowled around’.… So much the worse for the hosts of Mid-                Lucia, of course, had no intention of flying to Le Touquet, but
ian.                                                                     she drove to Seaport next morning to meet Georgie. He was
                                                                         wearing a new French yachting costume with a double-breast-
“Good morning, dear,” said Elizabeth. “No Mr. Georgie in                 ed jacket and brass buttons.
church? Not ill I hope?”
                                                                         “My dear, how delightful of you to come and meet me!” he
“No, particularly well,” said Lucia, “and enjoying himself so            said. “Quite a smooth crossing. Do you like my clothes?”
much at Le Touquet that he’s staying till Monday.”
                                                                         “Too smart for anything, Georgie, and I am so glad to see you
“Sweet of you to allow him,” responded Elizabeth, “for you               again. Such a lot to tell you which I couldn’t write.”
must be so lonely without him.”
                                                                         “Elizabeth been behaving well?” he asked.
 At that precise moment there took possession of Lucia an
emotion to which hitherto she had been a stranger, namely                “Fiendishly. A real crisis, Georgie, and you’ve come into the
sheer red rage. In all the numerous crises of her career her             middle of it. I’ll tell you all about it as we go.”
brain had always been occupied with getting what she wanted              Lucia gave an unbiassed and lucid sketch of what had hap-
and with calm triumph when she got it, or with devising                  pened, peppered by indignant and excited comments from
plans to extricate herself from tight places and with scaring            him:
off those who had laid traps for her. Now all such insipidities
were swept away; rage at the injustice done her thrilled every            “Poppy’s imbecile—yes I call her Poppy to her face, she
fibre of her being, and she found the sensation delicious. She           asked me to—Fancy her forgetting you: just the sort of thing
began rather gently.                                                     for that foul Mapp to make capital of—And so like her to get
                                                                         the Council to reject the picture of you—My dear, you cried?
 “Lonely?” she asked. “I don’t know the word. How could I be             What a shame, and how very unlike you—And they don’t
lonely with my books and my music and my work, above all                 believe Poppy stayed with you? Why of course she did! She
with so many loving loyal friends like yourself, dear Eliza-             talked about it—Even Irene?—How utterly poisonous of them
beth, so close about me?”                                                all!—Hurrah, I’m glad you gave it them hot after church.
 “That’s the stuff to give her. That made her wince,” she                Capital! We’ll do something stunning, now that we can put
thought, and opening the furnace doors she turned to the                 our heads together about it. I must hear it all over again bit by
group of loving loyal friends, who had emerged from church,              bit. And here we are in the High Street. There’s Mapp, grin-
and were close about her.                                                ning like a Cheshire cat. We’ll cut her anyhow, just to make a
                                                                         beginning: we can’t go wrong over that.”
 “I’m still the deserted wife, you see,” she said gaily. “My
Georgie can’t tear himself away from the sirens at Le Tou-               Georgie paused a moment.
quet, Olga and Poppy and the rest. Oh, Mr. Wyse, what a                   “And, do you know, I’m very glad to be back,” he said. “Olga
cold you’ve got! You must take care of yourself: your sister             was perfectly sweet, as she always is, but there were other
the Contessa Amelia di Faraglione would never have allowed               things. It would have been far better if I’d come home on
you to come out! Dear Susan! No Royce? Have you actually                 Saturday.”
walked all the way from Porpoise Street? You mustn’t overdo
it! Diva, how is Paddy? He’s not been sick again, I hope, after          “Georgie, how thrilling!” cried Lucia, forgetting her own
eating one of your delicious sardine tartlets. Yes, Georgie’s not        crisis for a brief second. “What is it?”
back yet. I am thinking of going by aeroplane to Le Touquet               “I’ll tell you afterwards. Hullo, Grosvenor, how are you? Yes,
this afternoon, just to dine and sleep— like Poppy—and re-               I think I’ll have a warm bath after my journey and then rest
turn with him tomorrow. And Susanna! I hear you’ve been so               till tea- time.”
busy with your new story about Tilling. I do hope you will get
                                                                         They had tea in his sitting-room after he had rested, where he
someone to publish it when it’s finished. Dear Diva, what a
                                                            Chapter XII
                                                                     80
was arranging his bibelots, for Grosvenor had not put them                Grosvenor entered.
back, after dusting them, exactly as he wished. This done, he             “A telegram for you, ma’am. Prepaid.”
took up his needle-work and his narration.
                                                                      With trembling hands Lucia tore it open, and, for Grosvenor’s
 “It’s been rather upsetting,” he said. “Poppy was terribly ill       benefit, assumed her drawling voice.
on her crossing, and I didn’t see her till next day, after I had
settled to stop at Olga’s over the Sunday, as I telegraphed. And       “From the Duchess, dear,” she said. “She wants to come here
then she was very queer. She took hold of my hand under the           to- morrow for two nights, on her way back from Le Touquet.
table at dinner, and trod on my foot and smiled at me most            I suppose I had better say yes, as I did ask her to propose
oddly. She wouldn’t play Bridge, but came and sat close up            herself.”
against me. One thing after another—”                                     “Oh, very well,” said Georgie.
“Georgie, what a horrid woman,” said Lucia. “How could she            Lucia scribbled a cordial reply, and Grosvenor took it away
dare? Did she try—”                                                   with the tea-tray.
“No,” said Georgie hastily. “Nothing important. Olga assured           “Georgino, you’re an angel,” said she. “My dear, all the time
me she didn’t mean anything of the sort, but that she always          that I was so wretched here, I knew it would all come right as
behaved like that to people with beards. Olga wasn’t very             soon as you got back, and see what has happened! Now let
sympathetic about it: in fact she came to my room one night,          us make our plans at once. I think we’ll ask nobody the first
and simply went into fits of laughter.”                               night she is here—”
“Your bedroom, Georgie?” asked Lucia.                                  “Nor the second either I should hope,” said Georgie, “Give
“Yes. She often did when we went upstairs and talked for a            them a good lesson. Besides, after the way you talked to them
bit. But Poppy was very embarrassing. I’m not good at that            yesterday after church, they probably wouldn’t come. That
sort of thing. And yesterday, she made me go for a walk with          would be a knock.”
her along the beach, and wanted to paddle with me. But I was          Lucia regarded an angle of the ceiling with that far away
quite firm about that. I said I should go inland at once if she       abstracted expression with which she listened to music.
went on about it.”
                                                                       “About their coming, dear,” she said, “I will wager my knowl-
“Quite right, dear. Just what I should have done myself,” said        edge of human nature that they will without exception. As to
Lucia appreciatively.                                                 my asking them, you know how I trust your judgment, but
 “And so those last two days weren’t so pleasant. I was uncom-        here I’m not sure that I agree. Don’t you think that to forgive
fortable. I wished I’d come back on Saturday.”                        them all, and to behave as if nothing had happened, would
                                                                      be the most devastating thing I could do? There’s nothing that
“Very tiresome for you, dear,” said Lucia. “But it’s all over         stings so much as contemptuous oblivion. I have often found
now.”                                                                 that.”
 “That’s just what I’m not so sure about,” said he. “She’s leav-       “You don’t mean to say that you’ll ask Elizabeth Mapp-Flint
ing Olga’s to-morrow, and she’s going to telegraph to you,            to dine?” asked Georgie.
asking if you would let her stay here for a couple of nights.
Apparently you begged her to propose herself. You must re-             “I think so, Georgie, poor soul. If I don’t she will feel that she
ally say your house is full or that you’re away. Though Olga          has hurt me, that I want to pay her out. I shouldn’t like her
says she means no harm, it’s most disagreeable.”                      to feel that. I don’t want to leave her a leg to stand on. Up till
                                                                      now I have never desired quite to crush her, but I feel I have
Lucia sprang from her chair.                                          been too lenient. If she is to become a better woman, I must
“Georgie, how absolutely providential!” she cried. “If only           give her a sharper lesson than merely ignoring her. I may
she came, it would kill that despicable scandal that she hadn’t       remind her by some little impromptu touch of what she tried
stayed here before. They would be forced to believe that she          to do to me, but I shall trust to the inspiration of the moment
had. Oh! What a score!”                                               about that.”
“Well, I couldn’t stop here if she came,” said Georgie firmly.         Georgie came round to Lucia’s view of the value of vindic-
“It got on my nerves. It made me feel very jumpy.”                    tive forgiveness, while for himself he liked the idea of call-
                                                                      ing a Duchess by her Christian name before Mapp and Co.
 “But then she mightn’t stop if she found you weren’t here,”
                                                                      He would not even mind her holding his hand if there were
pleaded Lucia. “Besides, as Olga says, she doesn’t mean any-
                                                                      plenty of people there.
thing, I shall be with you; surely that will be sufficient protec-
tion, and I won’t leave you alone with her a minute all day.           “It ought to be a wonderful party,” he said. “Even better than
And if you’re nervous, you may sleep in my room. Just while           the party you gave for Olga. I’m beginning to look forward to
she’s here, of course.”                                               it. Shall I help you with writing the invitations?”
“Oh, I don’t think either of us would like that,” said Georgie,        “Not necessary, dear, thank you,” said Lucia. “I shall ask
“and Foljambe would think it so odd.”                                 them all quite casually by telephone on the afternoon of our
                                                                      dinner. Leave it to me.”
“Well, you could lock your door. Oh, Georgie, it isn’t really
much to ask, and it will put me on a higher pinnacle than              Poppy arrived next evening, again prostrated by seasickness
ever, far, far above their base insinuations. They will eat their     and far from amorous. But a good night restored her, and the
hearts out with shame.”                                               three took a morning stroll in the High Street, so that every-
                                                                      body saw them. Lucia, absolutely certain that there would be
Trouble for Lucia                                                                                                          E. F. Benson
                                                                   81
a large dinner-party at Mallards that night, ordered appropri-          evaporated in the night-air like the fumes of wine, leaving
ate provisions. In the afternoon they went for a motor-drive:           behind an irritated depression.
just before starting Lucia directed Foljambe to ring up the              “Well, there’s no help for it,” she said bitterly, as he fumbled
whole circle of friends, asking them to excuse such short no-           with the latch-key of the Vicarage. “But I daresay before
tice and take pot-luck with her, and not a word was Foljambe            long—Do be quick.”
to say about Duchesses. They knew.
                                                                        Half an hour later at Mallards, Lucia, having seen Poppy well
 While the ducal party traversed the country roads, the tele-           on the way to bed, tapped discreetly at Georgie’s door. That
phone bells of Tilling were ringing merrily. For the Wyses              gave him a terrible fright, till he remembered he had locked it.
were engaged to dine and play Bridge with the Mapp-Flints,
and Susan, feeling certain that she would not meet the Mapp-            “No, you can’t come in,” he said. “Good night, Poppy. Sleep
Flints anyhow at Mallards, rang up Elizabeth to say that                well.”
she was not feeling at all well and regretted not being able            “It’s me, Georgie,” said Lucia in a low voice. “Open the door:
to come. Algernon, she said, did not like to leave her. To her          only a chink. She isn’t here.”
surprise Elizabeth was all cordiality: dear Susan must not
think of going out, it was no inconvenience at all, and they            Georgie unlocked it.
would arrange another night. So, with sighs of relief, they              “Perfect!” she whispered. “Such a treat for them all! They will
both rang up Mallards, and found that the line was engaged,             remember this evening. Perfect.”
for Susan Leg, having explained to Diva that she had made a
stupid mistake, and had meant to ask her for tomorrow not
for to-night, was telling Foljambe that she would be charmed
to come. Diva got the line next, and fussing with this delay,
Elizabeth sent Benjy round to Mallards to say how pleased.
Then to make certain, they all wrote formal notes of accep-
tance. As for Irene, she was so overcome with remorse at hav-
ing ever doubted Lucia’s word, and so overwhelmed by her
nobility in forgiving her, that she burst into tears, and forgot
to answer at all.
 Poppy was very late for dinner, and all Lucia’s guests had ar-
rived before she appeared. They were full of a timid yet eager
cordiality, as if scarcely believing that such magnanimity was
possible, and their hostess was graciousness itself. She was
particularly kind to Elizabeth and made enquiries about her
sketch. Then as Poppy still lingered she said to Georgie: “Run
up to Poppy’s room, dear, and tell her she must be quick.”
She had hardly got that pleasant sentence out when Poppy
entered.
“Naughty!” said Lucia, and took her arm to introduce the
company. “Mr. and Mrs. Wyse, Miss Leg (Rudolph da Vinci,
you know, dear), Miss Irene Coles—the picture of the year—
and Mrs. Plaistow: didn’t you have one of her delicious teas
when you were here? And my Mayoress, Mrs. Mapp-Flint, I
don’t think you met her when you stayed with me last week.
And Major Mapp-Flint. Now everybody knows everybody.
Sherry, dear Poppy?”
 Georgie kept his hands on the table during dinner, and Poppy
intermittently caressed the one nearest her in a casual manner;
with so many witnesses and in so bright a light, Georgie liked
it rather than otherwise. Her attempt to stroll with him alone
in the garden afterwards was frustrated, for Lucia, as bound
by her promise, instantly joined them, and brought them back
to the garden- room. She was induced to play to them, and
Poppy, sitting close to Georgie on the sofa, fell into a refresh-
ing slumber. At the cessation of the music, she woke with
a start and asked what the time was. A most distinguished
suavity prevailed, and though the party lacked the gaiety and
lightness of the Olga-festival, its quality was far more monu-
mental. Then the guests dispersed; Lucia had a kind word for
each and she thanked them all for having excused her giving
them such short notice.
Elizabeth walked home in silence with Benjy. Her exaltation
                                                           Chapter XII
                    82




Trouble for Lucia        E. F. Benson

				
DOCUMENT INFO